It was a “Who’s Who” of Wakefield on Saturday night at the Sheraton Colonial in Lynnfield, as a crowd of over 300 people filled the Seasons Ballroom to pay tribute to Thomas P. Butler, the popular and universally respected Town Administrator who retired last week after 36 years of service to the town.
Guests included family, friends, past and present town officials, former classmates, coaches, teammates and others whose lives have been touched by Butler - a Wakefield kid who went on to lead his hometown with a steady hand through good times and bad.
Selectman John Carney, a classmate of Butler’s going back to the first grade at the Lincoln School, served as master of ceremonies - introducing over 20 speakers who each rose to say a few words in Butler’s honor.
Bill Butler, the guest of honor’s brother, spoke for the Butler family. “We’re really proud of him and I know my mother and father were proud of him,” Bill Butler said. “Tom should be proud of all he’s done for the Town of Wakefield.”
Jane Good remembered a young Tom Butler coming to the Common along with 120 other kids on her first day as a playground instructor in 1957. “A few years later, he defected and went to Moulton,” Good recalled, “because they played better baseball over there.”
Classmate Pat O’Keefe talked about their 7-0 freshman football season that culminated with Butler catching a touchdown pass to break a 0-0 tie in the waning minutes of the final game against Melrose.
O’Keefe recalled that Butler knew everybody in high school - the athletes, the honor students, the band kids, the shop students and the tough kids. “He knew them all and could relate to them all,” O’Keefe said. “Tom had incredible common sense. He could boil down a complex matter into its simplest terms. This trait probably more than any other served him well in his career as the first Town Administrator.”
After showing a short film of Butler’s exploits as a WHS football player in 1963, DPW Business Manager Mike Martello said that Butler carried his qualities as a teammate through his career with the town.
“He’s always shown a great deal of determination and hard work and was always a team player,” Martello said. He thanked Butler for “taking me under your wing and showing me what leadership and friendship were all about.”
Legendary football coach Bill Tighe called Butler “a special person in high school and a special athlete.” Butler’s former coach told him that he was “extremely proud to have played a small part in your Wakefield High School years. Your attitude, intelligence and determination were second to none.”
Former WHS track coach Bill Squires said that the determination and drive Butler exhibited as a high school athlete was apparent in his tenure with the town. “My coaching motto has always been ‘results count, for you and your team.’ That’s what Tom’s all about.”
Butler’s high school classmate Jim Curley recalled heading off to Boston College with Butler and other members of the class of 1964. “We studied hard,” Curley said, “but we always found time to go to opening day at Fenway Park and we also spent a few St. Patrick’s Days in South Boston.”
Selectman Jim Good remembered Butler working with Town Accountant John J. McCarthy Sr. on finances in the 1970s. “I consider working with you and having you as a friend a great privilege,” Good said, wishing Butler “a great and happy retirement.”
Former Selectman Jim Scott recalled being on the board in 1991 when John J. McCarthy Sr. retired and the position of Executive Secretary opened up. “Tom Butler was the one and only choice for me and the other selectmen on the board at that time,” Scott said.
Former Town Accountant Matty Burns reminded Butler that they had “worked together for 23 happy years.” Burns wished Butler a happy retirement following the BC Eagles and the Boston Red Sox.
Longtime Finance Committee member Al Palmerino told Butler that he always “admired your professional attributes of detail, judgment and diligence. Your qualities of character and trust,” Palmerino added, “transcend your administrative talents and will remain your personal legacy.”
Selectman Phyllis Hull admitted that she hadn’t known Tom Butler for as long as some. “But it has been one of the most rewarding friendships that I have ever known,” Hull said. “As a new selectman, I was very fortunate to have Tom Butler as my Town Administrator.”
Hull also relayed the following message from her friend and former School Committee member Mary Tecce: “I always felt secure with Tom Butler behind the steering wheel.”
Selectman John Encarnacao called Butler “a man of impeccable moral values, honesty and selflessness who always gave above and beyond what was expected.”
Encarnacao also related a story dating back to 1958 when he coached Butler’s Pee Wee football team in a game against Newton. He recalled Butler running out for a pass, only to drop the ball in the end zone. “I’ve never known you to drop the ball in all the years since then,” Encarnacao said.
State Rep. Katherine Clark spoke for Wakefield’s legislators, saying, “we don’t work with any finer Town Administrator” than Tom Butler.
Chamber of Commerce Director Nancy Bertrand said that the town and the business community “have had no better friend over the years than Tom Butler.”
School Committee member Anthony Guardia told Butler that “generations of Wakefield students are indebted to you for the town, the schools and the future they inherited.”
Trudi Murphy, Butler’s longtime administrative assistant at Town Hall, noted that Butler never failed to find time for any citizen or town employee. “One Lafayette Street is never going to be the same,” Murphy said.
Selectman Chairman Betsy Sheeran thanked Butler for his dedication to the town. “Just as he has always been there for the town and for us,” Sheeran said, “we shall be there for him long after he leaves this position.”
When Butler rose to speak, he acknowledged that it was a special thrill to see his former coaches, Tighe and Squires. “They are probably the most influential men in my life, next to my father,” Butler said.
“I would not be in this position without the mentorship and stewardship of John McCarthy,” Butler added. Butler also mentioned other individuals who played key roles in his life and career, including Mario Simeola, Matty Burns and the late Paul Lazzaro. He thanked the Finance Committee members with whom he had worked closely over the years, as well as Town Counsel Tom Mullen and town Personnel Department head Laurie Riley.
Butler singled out Trudi Murphy for special recognition. “Trudi is really the boss,” Butler said. “Trudi is the reason that I and the board of Selectmen do anything right. Her effort has been critical to everything I’ve accomplished.”
Butler said that he always tried to have an open door policy and to help people through the maze of government.
As Butler headed into retirement, he summed up his long career by paraphrasing the refrain from his favorite song by Irish rock band U2.
“I have found what I’m looking for,” Butler said.