Early in his tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina’s 3rd District, Butler Derrick was amused to learn that his voting record was tied with that of the late Bella Abzug in a rating by one of the nation’s leading liberal-issues group.
As a loyal staffer for Butler at the time, I felt that I needed to remind him of the political reality of such a public comparison. I pointed out that Bella Abzug was an ultra-liberal, flamboyant feminist from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, while he represented the conservative Whiskey Road area of Aiken County. He simply flashed his trademark wry smile, with perhaps a little extra twinkle in his eyes. Yes, my friend Butler was proud of the fact that he was a progressive Southern Democrat representing a conservative district (1975-1995) that was transforming itself into the solid Republican district it is today.
Butler served 10 terms in Congress because his constituents recognized that he was a person of integrity and honesty and that he cared about the issues that were important to their lives. They recognized that he was a true public servant who believed in his obligation to them regardless of politics. They recognized he had a tremendous sense of fair play, and that he could comfortably separate right from wrong and stand by his convictions. They seemed to understand how he could champion the Savannah River Site in Aiken but also try to limit the amount of nuclear waste stored in our state. They understood how he could fight relentlessly for the textile industry and its thousands of jobs, but also question the need for the Russell Dam project. They could see that Butler Derrick always stayed true to himself.
That recognition as a person of conviction, and a public official who stood by his beliefs, brought several hundred family, friends and admirers to his funeral in Trenton on Monday. They were young and old, black and white, Democrats and Republicans. There were many accolades recognizing his public service, his compassion, his ability to get along and his always warm and genuine demeanor. They were all richly deserved, and certainly all would have been shunned by Butler Derrick.
Butler’s devotion to his family was well-known, as was the exceptional personal courage he possessed, whether in making tough decisions in Washington or inspiring family and friends during his battle with cancer. Butler Derrick lived a wonderful life of caring and service to his state, his nation and his fellow men and women.
John D. Gregory