David Butcher was a dedicated husband, father and grandfather, and he also managed to dedicate his life to his work, his church and to community. He was an extraordinary man who lived in extraordinary times in a changing South Africa and he played no little role in ensuring that a transition to democracy could be successfully achieved. His passing after a short illness is a great loss to his family and to the communities he served.
After coming down from Cambridge and marrying Jean, the woman who would remain the love of his life, David joined Anglo-American and rose through the ranks as one would expect of a person of acute intelligence and a well-developed work ethic. At the same time, David and Jean were creating a family: William, Patrick and Neil had all arrived by 1970. When the boys went to school, so too did David, and he was sitting on the Board at The Ridge School within months of him having become a parent there. David was also serving the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Johannesburg and was a significant role player in the transformation of the church in the tumultuous years between 1976 and 1990.
Later, when his three sons later moved to St Alban’s College, David migrated with them too and was co-opted onto the College Council. He took up the position of Honorary Treasurer on the St Alban’s College in 1980 a position he would continue to hold 9with several nomenclature changes) through to formal approval of the Annual Financial Statements by the Council in March 2013. This is a truly extraordinary period of commitment and service, all the more so when one considers that David served as Chairman of Council from 1996-2005, and also served as Chair of the Boards at Bishop Bavin School and St Peter’s College in that same period.
David served with and advised five of the six headmasters who have led St Alban’s College. He had every reason to admonish, chastise and tease each of those headmasters about their spend-thrift ways, but equally he encouraged them to lift their horizons and plan for the future. He did the same to the headmasters of The Ridge School, Bishop Bavin and St Peter’s College.
David’s service as a governor at St Alban’s College and in all the schools and community organizations that he was marked by his razor-sharp financial acumen and strategic nous. He gave his boards, heads and organizational leaders his unqualified support and in that way they had the confidence and courage to invest in the future of their institutions and the country at large. His legacy is everywhere to be seen at St Alban’s College, as it is in every other school and organization that he served. I dare say that he never once submitted an expense claim.
As Headmaster, I had the honour to serve St Alban’s College with David for over a decade. He wasn’t just “The Chairman”, he was equally a confidante, confessor, friend and mentor. He never interfered and firmly believed in delegation of authority. I know that he played the same role with many others in the institutions in which David served. Back in July, David drove me to Soweto to help him develop ideas on a church complex in White City, Soweto, that had potential to be a beacon in its community. He was as enthusiastic, humorous and engaged as ever, and his devotion to education undimmed in the later season of his life.
On the way back to the city that day in July, I asked David what had inspired him to dedicate so much time, energy and expertise in schools and community organizations. He didn't find it easy to answer, for this is the life he had led since he was a young man. “I know no other way; it is what is required of us, I think.” was his answer. He wouldn't articulate it, but there can be little doubt that David Butcher’s life was lived in the service of family, company and community due to his deep faith and his devotion to God. Einstein wrote “Only a life lived in the service to others is worth living.”, and on that basis, we can safely say that David Butcher lived a worthy life.
David Butcher graduated from Cambridge with degrees in Science and Law, he later qualified as a chartered accountant in London, before returning to South Africa where he worked for Anglo American for the next 25 years. He is survived by his wife Jean, sons William Patrick and Neil and their families.
Rest well, faithful servant. We will hardly see your like again.