Remembering Bert Butler, by Carl Wetzstein

Bert’s obituary on the Brighton Memorial website tells about his life, his family, and his career. I’d like to talk about our friendship, which has been going on for almost 50 years, and some of my favorite stories.

The first thing to know is that Bert loved life and that he was grateful for the one he had. Over the years, he told me many, many times how much he loved his wife, Sylvia, how she had helped him in his work, set up a business of her own, and made it a success without any prior experience.

Bert and I were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and we had many heated debates. Every Wednesday morning, he used to pick me up at 6:45 AM (an un-godly hour for me) to meet friends at the Charbroil for breakfast.  One morning, I opened the car door (half asleep) and before I was even in the car, he yelled “Why do vote the way you do?”  At high speeds on the expressway, the argument went on with Bert waving both hands in the air. But when we sat down for our coffee, we said “Enough – it’s time to talk of other things.” So we could argue and argue and yet stay friends. And what I discovered is that his positions came out his love for his country – he was convinced that the opposition candidate(s) would ruin the country.

Bert, Sylvia and I spent many a Sunday bicycling – occasionally we took overnight trips. On one such trip to Geneva, when Bert looked for accommodations, he gave a report: “No Room at the Inn.” What to do? Bert knew how to talk to people – at one place where we stopped, he found out that the lady at the desk would be there all night, so after a joke or two, we wound up staying in her apartment. One year I wanted to get some door prizes for our Temple picnic, but asking is not my strength. My solution, take Bert along to do the asking.

More about biking. One year, the Butlers and the Wetzsteins went on vacation at Martha’s Vineyard. On day one, Bert hurt his back and went to Emergency at the local hospital where he told jokes to the doctors and nurses while they fixed him up and told him to take it easy for a few days. What, take it easy? Naw – Bert heard that there was a nude beach on the island, so the next day we got on our bikes and headed there. Yes people were nude, but other than that, it was just a normal beach, nothing untoward going in. On the way back, Bert must have been thinking about the day, lost control of the bike, fell off, and headed back to Emergency. He had broken his collar bone. BTW, people ask if we took off our clothes – we’ll never tell.

Lastly, Bert loved to tell jokes anytime, anywhere, to anyone, including IRS agents to soften them up. And he kept it up to the very end – during his last hospital stay, I went to see him and asked the nurses how he was doing. Their answer – “He was telling us jokes.” Even a few days before he passed, he whispered one of his jokes to the hospice nurse.  Wherever he is now, I’m sure he’s looking for a new audience.

And, about his funeral, had he been able to, he would have told us, “This is a grave occasion – I hope they have more than a skeleton staff.”

May the name Bert Butler be remembered for a blessing.


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