Wednesday, October 31, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 50


 
 









 
UH celebrates life of geosciences professor

By Ken Fountain
Daily Cougar Staff

Hundreds of family, friends and colleagues of John Butler, the UH geosciences professor who died of cancer Oct. 24, filled the Lyndall Finley
Wortham Theater on Tuesday afternoon for a celebration of his life and 33-year career at the University.


Lorrie Novosad/The Daily Cougar


Attendees of the memorial service for geosciences professor John Butler enter the Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre on Tuesday afternoon.


During the one-and-a-half hour ceremony, several speakers spoke of "Big John" with unbridled affection for the man known for his humor,
enthusiasm and brilliance.

As people entered the newly-refurbished theater, they were treated to a PowerPoint display of photographs of Butler throughout his life,
interspersed with some of his favorite jokes and sayings. ("Only for the lead dog does the view change" was one.)

The celebratory nature of the event was reflected in the music heard in the auditorium, mostly popular songs from the 1960s and '70s selected by
his family from his CD collection.

Jill Butler, one of Butler's daughters from his first marriage, served as the "master of ceremonies." She noted that Butler's second wife, Susan Butler,
serves as associate director for public affairs for the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, and that she herself worked for a period in her
father's department.

"Our family has strong UH ties. This was a very special place for my dad," she said, adding that she only learned how much a community UH is in
the last two weeks, as Butler's condition grew worse.

"It didn't seem right to do this in a church," she said. "This was my dad's church. This is where he felt the most strong bonds. Whatever was most
important in life, this was the place."

Noting that her father was not a traditionally religious man, she told how he would go to church with the family at her mother's urging.

"My dad put on long pants," she said to the laughter of the gathering, acquainted with Butler's usual practice of wearing shorts. During the services,
she said, he would entertain himself by flipping through the Bible and finding "strange, odd passages" that he would share with his children.

"I think what that did for me was, it gave me a true sense of one of the most important lessons my dad taught me -- respectful irreverence," she said,
adding that he taught his children to question people and assumptions.

"There were two things that were always true about my father. He was always a geologist, and he was always a teacher," she said.

She said he was "always happiest" when he was doing something related to teaching. When he went to his children's soccer games, he would lie
in the grass at the end of the field, grading papers. "He always knew when to look up and give the 'way-to-go' dad sign."

While it might have seemed he was a workaholic, she said, that wasn't the case. "He didn't have a job. He had a lifestyle. That was how he most
wanted to live his life."

UH Vice President for Student Affairs Elwyn Lee spoke next, describing Butler's commitment to serving the University. During a period in the
mid-'90s when enrollment at UH was declining, Butler personally studied the figures and submitted recommendations for reversing them. Finally,
Lee said, the administration created a position for him, to "pay him for what he was already doing."

Lee also talked about Butler's early interest in using the Internet for educational purposes. "John was a techie before being a techie was cool," he
said.

John Hardy, associate dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, related Butler's penchant for playing practical jokes. In one
instance, he created several "Van Horn dollars," dollar bills with the picture of George Washington removed and replaced by a picture of then
UH-President Richard Van Horn, which Butler called "UH chits."

Another time, Hardy said, Butler surreptitiously placed a placard of the "Marijuana Growers Association of America" on a credenza in the
president's office.

Rachel Sissenwein, a current geosciences senior, told the audience about "how loved he was by all of us students. He had a gift for putting us at
ease."

David Meaux, an NSM alumnus who first knew Butler in the early 1980s, described how when he first came to the geosciences department, he
would see a big man with a beard and short pants walking through the halls, and wonder, "Who is that guy?" only to learn he was the departmental
chair.

"He was at the center of the culture of the department," Meaux said. "He was a fantastic teacher, with an enthusiasm that was infectious. I have a
never-ending respect for this man."
 
 
 

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