Dr. John Butler; His Zest For Life Equaled His Dedication To Science

Dr. John Butler hadn't slowed down at 68.

He continued to work full time at the University of Washington, where he had served on the medical school faculty for 27 years.

Most mornings he would bicycle to campus from his Magnolia home, said his daughter, Sarah Butler-Wills.

Dr. Butler was a hiker, a skier and a wind surfer.

But his real passion was gliders, his daughter said. He began piloting the motorless aircraft that ride air currents shortly after World War II.

That's what he was doing when he died last Sunday. His sailplane crashed into a cliff near Wenatchee, where for many years he had gone to pursue the sport.

Family and friends said Dr. Butler will be remembered for his professional accomplishments, his youthfulness and his zest for life.

"He was busy all the time, outdoors, enjoying nature," Butler-Wills said.

"When we were growing up, every weekend we were outdoors, hiking or sailing."

Dr. Butler was an internationally recognized authority in pulmonary medicine, said Dr. Richard Albert, who heads the pulmonary division at the University of Washington, "but he had less ego than anyone I've ever met in academic medicine. He was a very unassuming man, very humorous, very droll."

Dr. Butler was born in 1923 in Grantham, England, and received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Birmingham. He came to the United States in 1961 and joined the staff of the pulmonary research center at the University of California, San Francisco.

He moved to Seattle and the UW in 1965.

Dr. Butler both taught and conducted research, Dr. Albert said, and specialized in the blood vessels of the lungs, interactions between the lungs and heart, and bronchial circulation.

"He was internationally known," said Albert, a colleague for more than 15 years, "but he could care less whether he was listed as the first author or primary author, or whether he had 30 publications or 50 publications - in fact, he had 120 publications.

"But that didn't matter to him. All he cared about was the science, and the progress of the people he was mentoring."

Dr. Butler had recently published a textbook on bronchial circulation, but his interests extended far beyond medicine. Albert said Dr. Butler was knowledgeable about plants and trees, and was broadly read in the English classics.

He began gliding with friends in England in 1946, Butler-Wills said, and had received many achievement awards in the sport.

A memorial service was held Friday at the University of Washington.

Survivors, in addition to Butler-Wills of Pasadena, Calif., include another daughter, Joan Qazi of Wenatchee; sons Malcolm Butler of Ventura, Calif., James Butler of Pullman, and Charles Butler of Seattle; the mother of his children, Marjorie Norrie of Seattle; a brother, Brendan Butler of Teign Grace, England; and one grandson.