IN MEMORIAM: Late Wayne T. Butler leaves legacy carved in history

A palpable sense of veneration filled Marblehead’s Old North Church on July 8, as the community gathered to pay tribute to one of its beloved members, Wayne T. Butler.

Marblehead resident Wayne T. Butler, who died in October at 91, devoted his time and skills to preserving Marblehead’s rich history. COURTESY PHOTO / THE BUTLER FAMILY

Butler, who passed away on Oct. 23 at the age of 91 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, left behind a legacy steeped in kindness, historic preservation and unwavering dedication to his town, according to several eulogies offered during the memorial service.

Known for his meticulous cataloging and preservation of Marblehead’s historical papers and artifacts, Butler’s endeavors ensured that the town’s heritage would be safeguarded and accessible for future generations.

Marilyn Freeman — a close friend and fellow Old North Church member — captured Butler’s character.

“Memorial services such as this are somewhat like the art of making a quilt,” Freeman said. “If anyone is asked to make a fabric memory square representing an interaction with Wayne, imagine what a finished one will look like. He was calm, listened well and took great delight in everyday conversations.”

Freeman recalled a moment when a fire broke out in the Old North Church, and Butler sprang into action.

“He alerted the fire department,” she said. “He directed responders to appropriate places and then supervised repairs and improvements.”

Marblehead Forever Award winner

After retirement, Butler’s love for Marblehead led him to volunteer at Abbot Hall, serving on and leading the Marblehead Historical Commission for several years.

Day Gotschall (left), then chair of the Marblehead Forever Committee and Wayne Butler, right, 2005 Recipient of the Marblehead Forever Award. COURTESY PHOTO / THE TOWN OF MARBLEHEAD

“In the early 2000s, the cataloging was computerized, using a database designed for museum collections,” Pam Peterson wrote in a piece for the Historical Commission. “Wayne initiated computer cataloging of the commission’s collection, selected the PastPerfect computer program and devoted countless hours to setting up and cataloging documents and objects, including photos of the items.”

In 2005, he earned the “Marblehead Forever” award for his meticulous work organizing the vast array of physical objects and historical documents donated to the town.

“The Commission notes with sadness the passing of Wayne Butler, a longtime volunteer, collections manager and commission chair,” the Historical Commission wrote in the 2022 Town Report. “Wayne single-handedly organized the Commission’s collection and created the tools to manage it.”

Butler discovered Paul Revere’s letter in 2009, hidden away in a file cabinet in Abbot Hall. Revere’s letter, addressed to Jonathon Glover, was an attempt to purchase old cannons belonging to the town for use in his new foundry in Boston. Today, a high-resolution copy of the letter hangs in the Select Board Room.

A family man

In addition to his community involvement, Butler’s family played a central role in his life. Madisyn Butler, his granddaughter, struggled to express her grandfather’s love and care for her and her brother, Foster.

“He also loved to be at home with us. I remember him making up dances with me every time that he visited,” she said. “He was always my biggest supporter.”

Joshua Butler, Wayne’s nephew, grew up close to his uncle on Mugford Street. Wayne was a constant in his life.

“Wayne showed his affection through mentorship,” he said. “He would take every opportunity to stop and explain or give me a story about the history of something.”

He remembered Butler’s patience and eagerness to teach, especially during their Friday night dinner conversations.

“Everything that I have today, all my traits, my interests, I attribute to all the time I spent with Wayne,” Joshua said.

 Wayne T. Butler, who died in October at age 91, tirelessly organized and cataloged thousands of Marblehead’s historical artifacts, ensuring their preservation for future generations.

Born Oct. 9, 1931 to Emma Frances (née Hammond) and Edward Royer Butler, Wayne Trasher Butler was the eldest of five children. He graduated from Marblehead High School in 1950 and earned his bachelor’s degree from Boston University.

In 1958, Butler married Susie Gangi of Waltham. Together, they raised three children — Sandra, Robert and Charles.

Christopher Butler, Butler’s youngest brother with 21 years between them, recounted vivid “flashbulb memories” from their youth. He began by recalling Butler’s wedding, when Christopher was just five years old. As the ring bearer, he received a silver dollar from his brother.

“Now, I don’t have that silver dollar anymore,” he said, “but I do remember that smile on his face so well.”

Wayne Butler’s boat building business, E.R. Butler & Sons, made and sold small wooden rowboats, known as prams, and other wooden products. He also loved children, according to his obituary. His woodshop was adorned with thank you notes from Gerry School kindergartners who visited to see his boat building.

“Neighborhood kids could count on a great story, and he was always there for his own kids, nurturing their passions and interests,” reads his obituary.

His son-in-law, Michael Dethridge, delivered a eulogy on behalf of Butler’s children, encapsulating his approach to fatherhood.

“He taught us how to think, reason, solve problems and view challenges as opportunities,” Dethridge said. “He was a gentle, thoughtful human who made us feel cared for, protected, loved and nurtured.”

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