Dr. Al Butler — an education legend in Virginia

Published 6:52 pm Thursday, December 3, 2020

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By Robert N. Holt

Elsewhere on the pages of this newspaper appears an obituary for Dr. Al Butler.

Growing up in Carrsville and attending Franklin public schools, he was known as “Alfred.” School was challenging for him and after graduation he applied for an hourly job at Union Camp Corporation in Franklin. Joe King, longtime human resources manager at the mill, refused to offer him a job. Joe saw great potential in Butler and told him to go to college, get a degree, and then come back and apply. (Joseph P. King Middle School in Franklin was named for Mr. King).

As a result of King’s advice, Butler (now known as “Al”), attended Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia earning three degrees culminating with a doctorate in education.

Early in his career he served as director of UVA’s Roanoke branch.

Wanting to get closer to the family farm in Carrsville, he was appointed assistant superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools, and then Superintendent of Franklin City Schools for several years. During his tenure in Franklin he was named Virginia Superintendent of the Year and Franklin High School was designated a National Blue Ribbon School “for its overall academic excellence and for progress in closing achievement gaps among subgroups of students.”

Dr. Butler was always up-to-date on the issues, always presented the board with alternative courses of action, and always was prepared with a recommendation. His soft spoken nature had a calming influence on the school division, and he never failed to visit every school at least once each week. I had the pleasure of serving as school board chair during his last three years in Franklin and saw firsthand his efficiency and effectiveness.

In 1996 Dr. Butler was offered the position of executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents based in Charlottesville as well as a faculty appointment to the Curry School of Education at UVA. This is the epitome of public school administration in Virginia. He taught doctoral students for the final 16 years of his career.

Dr. Butler died on Nov. 21. He left behind his loving and supportive wife of 52 years, Jane, and sons, Rawls and Adam, of whom he was very proud.

ROBERT N. “BOB” HOLT a Franklin native, is a retired professor of business management and real estate at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, N.C. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies degrees from Virginia Tech, and was a member of the university’s Corps of Cadets. His e-mail address is hrobert@vt.edu.