After 55 years as the mayor of Marion, Bob Butler has likely been called every name in the book.
For today, we’ll settle on one name that we can all agree on — icon.
That doesn’t seem too strong a term for a mayor still in public office who already has a statue erected in his honor on the public square. Granted, this newspaper has had its share of differences with Butler over the years. We’ve felt the digs from his sharp elbows and the sting of his tongue, but those matters are for another day.
Today is a day to pay tribute to a life spent in public service. The last time somebody not named Bob Butler was mayor of Marion, John F. Kennedy was president of the United States. Butler served through the terms of Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
MARION — Mayor Robert Butler announced today that he plans to retire Jan. 31. He will advise the corporate authorities of the city of his deci…
Otto Kerner Jr. was governor of Illinois when Butler assumed office.
Just think about that for a second.
Butler was first elected mayor of Marion in 1963, defeating Robert Cooksey by 687 votes. He ran on a platform of reform and a promise to bring jobs to Marion. The latter promise has become a campaign staple through 14 elections.
Without doubt, Butler has overseen incredible growth in his hometown, a city he refers to as “The Hub of the Universe.”
The population of Marion was 11,274 when Butler took office in 1963. According to 2015 figures, Marion’s population stands at 17,803.
Plus, Marion looks much different today than it did in 1963.
Illinois 13, the east-west conduit that makes Marion the hub between Carbondale and Harrisburg, has expanded to four lanes. The first segment of Interstate 57, from Dongola to Marion, was completed a short time before Butler took office, but the length of I-57 was still a decade from completion.
When Butler took office in 1964, the “hub” had no Hub. There was no Marion Cultural and Civic Center. The Pavilion? Nope. The Southern Illinois Miners? Nope. The Links of Kokopelli? Nope. A thriving interstate exchange filled with restaurants and hotels? Not a chance.
And, Butler was in office during 1982 when a tornado ravaged part of the town, killing 10 Marion residents.
Butler has stated that he is given too much credit for Marion’s growth.
Obviously, no one person can be credited with Marion’s expansion. Conversely, Butler’s hand has been on the tiller during that period of growth. His foresight and leadership cannot be overlooked, nor can his untiring boosterism for Marion.
Sometimes that unabashed devotion to his hometown got him in hot water with officials from local communities, but Southern Illinoisans never had to guess where Butler’s heart was.
It’s also worth pointing out that Butler’s public service is something of a family trait. His grandfather, Henderson Clarida, served as Marion’s mayor and chief of police. Butler’s father, Homer, was a city council member for six years in the 1930s.
During his time in office, Butler rubbed some people the wrong way. His blunt approach to issues angered and alienated constituents, rivals and allies alike.
Yet, the bottom line is that Butler earned the trust and respect of his fellow citizens. It’s obvious as Marion residents have returned Butler to office many times.
That longevity, that measure of trust, says more than any statue on the square.
So, agree with him, or disagree, love him or hate him, as Jan. 31 approaches, it’s time for the region to tip its collective hat to Butler for 55 years of public service. That kind of longevity, that kind of service, is nothing short of remarkable.