The Society for Louisiana Irises lost a dedicated and productive member with the death September 13, 1999 of Richard Colburn Butler, Sr.(1910 - 1999) of Little Rock, Arkansas. An SLI member since the 1960s, Dick grew large numbers of Louisiana irises, shared them with individuals and organizations throughout the nation, and also tried his hand at hybridizing.
Born in Little Rock on January 1, 1910, Dick was the son of a local pharmacist and land developer, Richard C. Butler, and Edna Clok Butler. He grew up in the older residential areas near downtown Little Rock, graduated from the public schools, then attended Little Rock Junior College and later the University of Arkansas where he took a law degree.
After law school Dick married Gertrude Rernrnel, a vivacious and lovely woman to whom he remained fervently committed until his death. They were the parents of a son, Richard C. Butler, Jr. of Little Rock.
Dick practiced law from 1933 until 1963, representing a many people and corporations. During the 1957 Central High School integration crisis Dick represented the Little Rock School Board in its attempt to weather the firestorm generated by angry segregationists. The New York Times ran his picture on the front page.
In 1963 Dick became president of Comercial National Bank of Little Rock. Soon he was among the foremost business leaders of the state and region. He served on the boards of many corporations, including the Rock Island Railroad, Arkansas Power & Light Co., and the Kinark Corp.
During World War II Dick served in the Army Air Corps, receiving the Bronze Star Medal for service in the China-Burma-India theater, reaching the rank of captain.
In the 1950s Dick and his wife became avid gardeners. They developed diverse horticultural interests, with Gertie becoming a specialist in daffodils. Dick gravitated toward daylilies and irises, especially Louisianas. One of his Louisiana iris hybrids, RIVER RIDGE, was quite popular in the Little Rock area.
A generous man, Dick was known far and wide for his donations of plants to individuals, businesses, and organizations. Last year he endowed the Butler Arboretum at the Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts, west of Little Rock. Soon the Arboretum will be planting a large selection of Louisiana irises around the its lake as a memorial to Dick. Dick also mentored many young gardeners, always making a point to introduce them to the magic of Louisiana irises.
Dick and Gertie attended many SLI conventions, and he was always willing to contribute in any way he could. He helped obtain funding through the American Iris Society Foundation, which he chaired, for cytological studies of Louisiana iris species.
Dick attended the SLI convention in Little Rock in the spring of 1999 despite persistent pain. As his health deteriorated and his mobility declined, Dick Butler's personality never changed. His firm handshake and broad smile never faltered; his love for Gertie manifested itself at all times; he continued to take a personal interest in his throng of friends; his spiritual grounding in the Methodist Church remained strong. At his funeral-- among all the Supreme Court judges, and politicians, and business tycoons--dozens of gardeners sat with heavy hearts but with gratitude for the accomplishments of this fellow gardener.
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the SLI Newsletter in the Fall 1999 edition.