Former Marion Mayor Bob Butler died Monday, April 22, 2019.
Butler, who served as Mayor of Marion for more than 50 years, retired in 2018 for health reasons. The city announced his death Monday morning.
“Anyone who met Bob knows what a great and caring man he was, and words cannot begin to express what a loss this is for our community. He was a good friend of mine, who served as a mentor during my career. I will miss him deeply. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this sad time," State Senator Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) said.
Butler first took office in May of 1963. When he retired, he was the second-longest serving mayor in the United States. He was the longest serving mayor in the state of Illinois.
Butler's death comes on the same day Mike Absher is to take the oath of office and be sworn in as the new Marion mayor. Absher won the April 2nd election, beating Anthony Rinella, who had served as Acting Mayor since Butler's retirement.
Absher says, as you might imagine, Butler's passing puts a different vibe over his swearing-in.
"I also knew Mayor Butler well enough that I can almost hear him saying, 'Son, the city's business goes on and get to it.' I can't imagine that he would want anything different."
Absher says, except for the past 14 months, Butler was the mayor for his entire life.
"If I could talk to him today, I would just simply want to tell him, thank you. Thank you for all that you've done for Marion, not only during your lifetime, but what will easily be understood to be lifetimes."
He says there will be a memorial service so the public can pay its respects.
"I know that many of the residents want to honor him and certainly all the city leaders and all the city employees want to honor him. So, I can see that as being one of the first orders of business is to plan that memorial this week."
A life-size bronze statue of Butler is located on Tower Square in Marion.
Brad Cole was elected Mayor of Carbondale in 2003 at the age of 31. By that time, Butler had already served 40 years in the mayor's office.
While there is a rivalry between the cities of Carbondale and Marion, Cole says Butler served as a mentor and friend to him during his two terms in the Carbondale mayor's office and beyond.
"It was a very meaningful relationship. I appreciated it even long after I was out of office. I spoke to him, visited him, just a couple of months ago. So, it was a true friendship over the years."
Cole reflected on the rivalry by remembering he used the slogan "Carbondale is the Capital of Southern Illinois" while Butler would counter "Marion is the Hub of the Universe."