By William S. Bike
Patrick, “Pat” Butler, a Gazette Chicago reporter and lifelong Chicagoan who was one of the deans of Chicago journalism, passed away on December 14 at age 83.
“I was too poor to go to law school, too immoral to join the clergy, and I had a bad left eye that kept me out of the army, so what does one do in a case like that but become a newspaperman?” Mr. Butler would say, laughing. “And I haven’t regretted it for a single moment.”
Mr. Butler began his journalism career as a stringer with the Lerner Newspapers in 1967, eventually moving up to managing editor. In its heyday, Lerner published 54 weekly and semi-weekly editions with a circulation of 300,000 on the North and Northwest Sides of Chicago and in suburban Cook, Lake, and DuPage counties. Besides writing news, he often wrote columns such as “Pat’s People” and others.
Among Lerner’s titles were the Booster, News-Star, and Skyline. The Lerner papers went through several ownership changes including Pulitzer, Hollinger, and Pioneer Press. Mr. Butler continued to work for those publications and others in the chain until he was laid off from Pioneer in 2013.
“He got in trouble because he was active in union politics for the Chicago News Guild,” noted his longtime partner, Kathy Hills.
Inside Publications had acquired the Booster, News-Star, and Skyline in 2009,so Mr. Butler continued writing for those publications until his passing.
Gazette Chicago reporter
He joined the Gazette Chicago staff in 2006, continuing to work there until his passing as well.
In 1987, Mr. Butler won a Peter Lisagor Award, the highest honor in Chicago journalism, for his Lerner series on how the loss of factory jobs put a strain on mental health and alcoholism services in Chicago. In 2013, he won an international Apex Award of Excellence from Communications Concepts, a journalism and publishing think tank outside of Washington, DC, for his Gazette Chicago coverage of a proposed Newman Center dormitory for the University of Illinois Chicago. He won many other journalism awards over the decades as well.
“We very much appreciated Pat’s skills and experience,” said Mark J. Valentino, editor and publisher of Gazette Chicago. “Having such a seasoned reporter on the Gazette Chicago team was a real asset for the decades that Pat worked with us. Even though he didn’t drive and always took the CTA, he was willing to go anywhere in our coverage area to get the story. His old-school savvy and style will be missed.”
Among the exciting events of Mr. Butler’s rough-and-tumble journalism career were covering the 1968 riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. “He was still a stringer for Lerner in 1968 and they couldn’t get any other reporter to cover the riots, but Pat would,” Hills recalled. “They immediately hired him full time. Leo Lerner, the editor and publisher, clearly loved him.”
“In my second night in Cabrini-Green covering the riots, I found myself crouched behind a squad car with another reporter and a cop as a sniper was shooting from the ninth floor,” Mr. Butler recalled. “The nearest shot landed eight or nine feet away.”
He also covered the tumultuous Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968.
Sparring with Mayor Daley
When Mr. Butler covered City Hall during the mayoralty of Richard M. Daley, when the mayor called on Mr. Butler during a news conference he would often sigh in anticipation of a tough question.
“Pat loved that and so did the rest of the press corps,” Hills said.
During a group tour of Cook County Jail, Mr. Butler recalled the tour guide asking if anyone had the courage to sit in the electric chair. One of Mr. Butler’s associates pushed him forward, and before he could protest, “two guards strapped me in the chair, took my glasses off, put a hood on my head, and read a fake death sentence,” he said.
Of the experience, Mr. Butler quipped, “I got a charge out of it.”
During his career, Mr. Butler noted, he met three presidents of the United States, doing a thorough interview of President Jimmy Carter; two presidents of the Republic of Ireland; a king; a queen; and interviewed many colorful Chicagoans, local politicians, activists, criminals, and newsmakers.
Mr. Butler also served more than a dozen years as president of the Ravenswood/Lake View Historical Association and for several years anchored a cable TV news/feature show, North Side Neighbors. He also was a former president of the Kiwanis Club of Lake View.
Because of his love of news and history, he wrote several books about the North Side: Hidden History of Lincoln Park, Hidden History of Ravenswood and Lakeview, and Hidden History of Uptown & Edgewater, published by Arcadia/History Press. He termed his books “a kind of curio shop of people and places that time forgot. I had so much fun writing them.”
Mr. Butler also was a frequent speaker about Chicago history and gave tours of historic Graceland Cemetery on the North Side. He even was part of history himself, having dated a grand-niece of Mary Todd Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln’s wife, for three years as a young man.
Born at Columbus Hospital in 1940, he grew up in the North Side neighborhoods of Rogers Park, Edgewater, and Uptown. From seventh grade through high school, he attended Maryville Academy. “He was a grateful Maryville kid,” Hills noted.
Mr. Butler worked his way through Columbia College Chicago, attending from 1961 to 1965. As a Columbia student, he liked to spend time at Bug House Square, more formally known as Washington Square Park, 901 N. Clark Street, which for many decades was considered the most celebrated open air free-speech location in America and was known for ordinary people giving speeches on whatever topics they chose.
“Pat was proud that he lasted 30 seconds the first time he spoke before he got the hook,” Hills recalled. Mr. Butler also was a former honorary mayor of Bug House Square.
Of journalism, Mr. Butler said, “I liked the excitement. I liked being close to where the action is. I think 50 years from now there will still be newspapers and reporters. It may all be digital, but the news business will still exist.
“We keep the politicians in line,” he concluded.
Mr. Butler was the partner of Kathy Hills; father of Kathleen Butler Greenan; father-in-law of Ryan Greenan; grandfather of Patrick (Paddy) and Declan; brother of Regina Dziewior; uncle of John Dziewior; cousin of Terry Butler and his wife, Gertrude; son of Valerie Sankauskas and Thomas Butler.
In lieu of flowers, donations to Maryville Academy and the House of the Good Shephard would be appreciated.