MARION — Mayor Bob Butler has a plan for Wednesday afternoon: “I’ll ride off into the sunset,” he said.
Butler, who has been mayor of Marion for nearly 55 years, will exchange the title of mayor for retiree Thursday morning. Butler took office in May 1963, and has been the choice of three generations of voters. He is the longest serving mayor in Illinois and second-longest serving in the United States.
Butler said he has always had his own way of doing things, but does not believe he was so different than anybody else would be given the time he has served.
“Always, I have maintained a stable and consistence approach to things that is flexible, and I occasionally found it necessary to change,” Butler said. “I have certain truths and values which never change.”
Some of those truths and values include being honest, candid, forthright, dedicated and completely committed to doing a good job.
“I have tried to keep the best interest in mind of the people to the point I don’t have any enemies,” Butler said. “I think that has always been my North Star.”
Butler said his decisions have not always been the most popular — but he was usually justified in the long run.
He added that one of the unique aspects of being a mayor is that you have to make decisions. A mayor must hear other views, but ultimately has to make a decision. He quoted Harry S. Truman, saying the buck stops here. He never made a decision he cannot live with or one that caused him to lose any sleep.
Butler did not vote for Truman because Truman was a Democrat and Butler is a Republican, but he has recognized over time what a great man Truman was.
“All in all," Butler said, "I’d rank him as one of the better presidents."
Butler has been influenced in one way or another by a great number of people because of what they did or how they did it.
One of those is Gov. Richard Ogilvie, who served one term from 1968 to 1972.
“One of the first things he did was to push through an income tax. He recognized it was essential for Illinois and recognized the political risk,” Butler said. “Dan Walker hung the income tax around his neck, and, on that one issue alone, he lost the election.”
Butler said perhaps that is why he did not worry too much about political fallout.
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“They are statesmen, not politicians. I’ve tried to maintain that,” Butler added. “If I am able to maintain my commitment to find the truth, then I have no hesitation to proceed.”
Butler became enamored with reading at age 13 or 14 when a good friend was returning a book to the library. He suggested Butler check it out. The book was “Scaramouche” by Raphael Sabatini.
“I checked it out, and I was so enamored I began to read more in that same style,” Butler said. “My horizon expanded from there.”
He added that books have had some influence on his life and tenure as mayor. They have helped him maintain a positive and upbeat attitude.
“I have to admit, I’m not always right, but I’m never wrong. For better or worse, I think a person has to think he’s right or not do what he’s doing,” Butler said.
He expects the transition to Mayor Anthony Rinella to be easy. Between now and the next election, Butler believes Rinella will prove he’s up to the job.
“I have been given more credit than I deserved and more criticism than was warranted. I’ve learned you cannot let criticism deter you from what is right,” Butler said. “If I am convinced I’m doing what is right, I am not concerned about criticism.”
Butler has only one thing left to do at City Hall — turn in his key to the front door.
“I think things are in pretty good shape. I don’t know of any loose ends,” Butler said. “It is amazing the number of ordinances I have had to sign [in nearly 55 years]. I am truly indebted to Alice Rix, our city clerk.”
He added that he marvels at her efficiency and the way she handles her job.
Rix was working in the records area of Marion Police Department when she was asked to come upstairs to talk with Mayor Butler. He asked if she was interested in the job as assistant city clerk.
Butler has the same opinion about the other supervisory personnel who work for the city.
“I believe today, right now, we have the most professional group of supervisors that we have had — that’s saying a lot,” Butler said.
As Butler has driven in to work at City Hall, he always looked for things that need to be done or improved along the route. He will drive around beginning Thursday and revel at what he sees without being concerned about what the city needs to do.
“On Thursday, I will get up in the morning and turn on the television to catch the news. Then, I don’t know what I’ll do,” Butler said. “I want to do some writing. It will give me the opportunity to reflect and call up things I pushed to the back of my mind.”