Leonard P. Butler, 74, of Gay Head, “the Man Who Moved the Lighthouse,” died peacefully at home, in the house he planned and built, on the morning of July 5, 2023. He was surrounded by his adoring family.
Len was born in Bowling Green, Ky., and then moved with his parents to Newark, N.J. Their family grew to five boys and one girl, and they relocated to Caldwell and Essex Fells, N.J.
Len attended Essex Catholic High School in New Jersey, followed by a stint in the North Sea courtesy of the U.S. Merchant Marine (great practice for future February ferry runs between the Vineyard and Woods Hole). He then attended Rutgers University, where he minored in geoscience (a brilliant preparation for the future Gay Head Lighthouse move), and received a bachelor of arts degree in psychology (maybe even more brilliant prep for the Lighthouse project). A lifelong TKE, he still hadn’t shown us their secret handshake.
Len married Mallory Mosser in 1969 in New Jersey. They moved to Martha’s Vineyard with their 1-year-old daughter Jeffie after visiting a friend on the Island during a February ice storm. They figured if they loved the Vineyard then, they’d love it forever. They did, and they still do. Len built a life for his growing family, now including children Maxwell and Nina, second to none.
He told his wife Mallory near the end of his life that he was most proud of being an exceptional father to his children. He was their biggest fan, supporter, and cheerleader. He never missed a basketball game, a ballet performance, a piano recital, a track meet, a Little League or T-ball game (he coached both), a Tabernacle performance, a rock show, or a Minnesingers performance (two daughters!). He wore those children like jewels.
He became a brilliant and applauded construction supervisor, working with the also beloved John G. Early and his crew. They built lasting, stunning projects over the years for their many grateful clients, including Spike Lee’s first Oak Bluffs home and the Obamas’ current home in Katama.
Len played in the early days of the magnificent men’s softball league in Oak Bluffs where, in spite of the well-known, sort-of-remembered sideline shenanigans, there were astoundingly gifted ballplayers and athletes. It was a triumph and a miracle when the mighty Ravings won the championship in 1978. Oh, did they party, and party some more! He was also a lifelong charter member and vice commodore of the world-renowned Whippoorwill Yacht and Rocket Club, under the astonishing, one-of-a-kind leadership of another Vineyard legend, Commodore Gordon M. Otis. Such treasured, golden memories of those wild, irreplaceable, indescribable years.
Len was responsible for building the outdoor deck at the Aquinnah library many years ago, maybe getting his first taste of the lifetime achievement which was to come, the relocation of the Red Queen, the Gay Head Light. In his early years in Gay Head in his old house (the original Vanderhoop homestead), he would watch her blink his family to sleep at night, a constant, vigilant, comforting presence. The thought of losing that watchful eye for future generations was the spark that led Len to the next necessary project. He knew he had the ability needed to leave his mark on a town which had loved and held his family for 50 years. He could and did return that miracle.
According to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, it was “the most ambitious historic preservation project ever undertaken on the Vineyard.” Len was awarded the Vineyard Medal by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in 2016. The entire thrilling adventure is chronicled in the PBS/NOVA documentary “Operation Lighthouse Rescue.” He will always be remembered for his smile, his kindness, his strength of character, and his loving heart, but mostly he will be remembered for saving the light that blinks us all to sleep at night still.
Len was predeceased by his parents, Leonard T. and Marilyn T. Butler, and his younger brother, John Edward (Kari) of Albuquerque, N.M. He is survived by his three extraordinary children: Jeffie Butler and her husband Kevin Sheehan of Aspen, Colo., his son Maxwell Gordon Butler of Los Angeles, Calif., and his youngest daughter, Nina Pascal Butler of Boston. He is survived by his wonderful brothers Christopher of Sag Harbor, N.Y., Richard (Amy) of Mequon, Wisc., and Robert (Tracey) of Verona, N.J.; his sister Marianne of Brooklyn, N.Y., and many spectacular nieces and nephews. He was known as “Poppi” to the two diamonds in his crown, his grandchildren Maeve Quillin and Orrin Thomas Sheehan of Aspen. As time went by, he became known as Poppi to many grown-ups also. He is also survived by his beloved wife of 54 years, Mallory Butler.
A celebration of the life of Len Butler will be held on Sept. 10 at 4 pm, at the Gay Head Lighthouse. Parking available, with a reception to follow.
Donations in his honor to preserve the Gay Head Light may be sent via check, made out to the town of Aquinnah, and mailed to: Town of Aquinnah, Attn: Lighthouse Keeper, 955 State Road, Aquinnah, MA 02535. “In memory of Len Butler” should be written in the check memo.
For online condolences and more information, please visit chapmanfuneral.com.
Wherever you are, Lennie B., breathe deep.