Community mourns death of beloved Harry ‘Shug’ Butler

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By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor

Harry D. “Shug” Butler died Sunday, June 23 in Gadsden at 90 years old.

According to his family, he was with his daughter at the time of his death.

“He was known as ‘Shug’ to everyone, but I had the privilege to call him dad also as it was such an honor to be his son,” said State Representative Mack Butler. “My dad was literally my best friend and I spoke to him every day. From him I learned the value of hard work, laughing easy, loving hard, how to be a husband, how to be a father and the importance of forgiveness and faith.”

Harry Butler was a broadcaster for Gadsden-area sports, newspaper columnist, radio host, author, motivational speaker, voter registrar for Etowah County and much more.

He was also a supporter of the arts, including Theatre of Gadsden (TOG), where he participated in many roles.

“[Harry Butler] has been a TOG advocate since Anne and his children were in The Music Man in the early 1970s,” said a Theatre of Gadsden spokesperson on Facebook. “The Theatre of Gadsden is devastated to announce the passing of one of our longest-serving family members. [Butler] was larger than life, with a long legacy of active support, patronage and respect that suits him well. From all of us at Theatre of Gadsden, we send our loving thoughts to the Butler family; their friends; and to all who knew, heard and loved Harry. He will be dearly missed.”

Harry Butler’s Ritz Theatre stage debut was in Mike Beecham’s directed production of The Sound of Music. He was also the Pastor in Arsenic and Old Lace, directed by Red Yates and he played the lead male role in Anne of Green Gables, directed by Jeff Roper.

Harry Butler was born October 29, 1933, in Kent in Elmore County to Newman Frank and Ruby Lucille Cotton Butler of Anniston. His radio broadcasting career started while he was in high school, and he gained prominence as a longtime presence on Gadsden stations WJBY, WLJM and WGAD. His voice was familiar to listeners through his weekday morning programs and his Sunday morning “Songs of Inspiration” gospel music program.

He earned an Associated Press Radio-Television Broadcast Journalism Award for his coverage and reporting of the Gadsden High School fire in 1972. The honor cited his “overall excellence, performance under pressure, initiative and public service.” The Alabama Associated Press Broadcaster Association called his work on that story “a credit to broadcast journalism.”

Harry Butler authored “Alabama’s First Radio Stations” that covered some of the early radio and television stations between 1920 and 1960. He also had a presence in local print journalism. He was a contributor in The Gadsden Times’ news and lifestyle sections for more than two decades, particularly with his “When Harry Met …” columns on everyday people with interesting and compelling stories.

He was an original member of the board of directors of John Croyle’s Big Oak Boys Ranch and a longtime PTA president in local schools. He has been an elected member of the Republican Executive Committee on both the county and state levels and was longtime chairman of Etowah County’s Board of Registrars following appointments by former Govs. Bob Riley and Robert Bentley.

Harry Butler was an U.S. Army veteran and traveled many years as lay ministers for the United Methodist Church. He was a longtime member of Christ Central Church.

“He served our nation in the armed forces, served his community, served his family and most importantly served his God,” Mack Butler said.

His wife and high school sweetheart, Anne Fite Butler, died in August of 2020. The couple shared 64 years of marriage together.

“[Harry Butler] and my mom opened their hearts and home to almost 100 young people needing a place and to be loved,” Mack Butler said. “The Bible tells us that when we pass, we are gathered unto our people, and I know my mom was there anxiously waiting on him with open arms.”

Harry Butler is father to Sydney Butler Gunter, Debbie Butler Pope, Laurie Butler Mayben and Mack Butler, and he has 13 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. He also has about a hundred “honorary children” he raised as a foster parent.

“Thank you everyone for the prayers and love shown to our family during this difficult time,” Mack Butler said.

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