One of the first times that I met Colonel Eugene Haynes Butler, an 80 year old retired air force fighter pilot, he said to me: “You know one of the biggest problems with your generation?” I waited for a totally different remark than the one which followed. After a short pause he said with a smile, “That I am not a part of it.” (then laughing his unforgettable laugh)
If you have ever met someone who is full of compassion, humor, and seems always able to make any situation they enter better by being in it – then you might have an idea why it was so easy to love and want to be around Colonel Butler, with his unique combination of being confident (e.g. “the best fighter pilot ever”), colorful (e.g. calling bad drivers on the road “those perverts!”, always adding either “Mr.” before your name or “baby” at the end of your name – for example, “Speak to me Mr. Joey” or “Hi Jeremy-baby”), and compassionate (in too many ways to name). Over the next few years we ended up forming a friendship that has changed me in ways which words can not do justice – who I am because of him is forever changed for the better.
Just try to imagine for a moment having someone walk into your life who then begins to do everything in his power to make you happy and successful, who introduces you to all of his favorite people, who teaches you things about generosity and true friendship through his everyday example, who makes you laugh every day, who convinces you that he would do anything he could for you, who talks about how great of a person you are to everyone he knows (even when they get sick of hearing it), who wants to get to know everything he can about you, and who (even knowing your weaknesses) still would defend your name to the death – all the while making you feel like it is you who is doing him some great favor! And then to see first hand how he was also able to do this for countless others in various degrees without making you feel any less special!
If you can even begin to imagine what that would be like, then you will know why it was so difficult for me to go to the intensive care unit of the hospital on Thursday to see this friend of mine unconscious in a coma and on life support, then within 25 hours watching him peacefully slip away into the next life.
I have the burden and honor of speaking at his funeral this Wednesday, and then trying the rest of my life to somehow live up to his personal example and his belief in me.
One thing he always joked about was his own death, and I have wondered since his passing why he was so fearless of death? Being Easter yesterday, I thought specifically of how he repeatedly said his favorite song of all time was Amazing Grace – and the few times he would open up and share with me his feelings about God (not in a contrived, self-righteous way at all – but with a tone that was totally void of pride yet still confident, grateful, and secure).
For so many reasons, I am not worried about him now – I believe he is in a much better place and that one time in the future I will be able to see him again. It just is so hard to think of life without him for now.
“Once in a great while, a certain somebody comes into our lives who mirrors our thoughts, lifts our spirits and brightens our hearts. And all of a sudden, life has new meaning and greater purpose than ever before.” (Marieta Donaldson)
(In honor and memory of Colonel Eugene Haynes Butler, war hero, true friend, and loyal patron of Chuck-a-Rama)
Here is a link to the speech that I gave at his funeral: The poetry of Colonel’s life
Here is the memory video I created in his honor. (If you can’t view it, then click here.)
Here are some pictures from the day of the funeral (click on title to see picture):