James Butler

James Butler, who refereed and umped for generations of Wythe County athletes, died over the weekend.

James Butler, who refereed and umped for generations of Wythe County athletes, died over the weekend.

A memorial service for Butler, 69, will be held at Barnett Funeral Home, Friday, March 29, at 1 p.m. The family will receive friends on Friday from noon until the service time. Friends have set up a Go Fund Me Account to help pay for his funeral expenses.

“Everyone knew him as just plain Butler,” his niece Stephanie Crockett said when she announced his death on Facebook. “If he wasn’t at the rec center refereeing a game, he was walking through the hallways of Wythe County Community Hospital whistling until he retired. He will be missed by everyone that he ever encountered.”

Butler worked for the recreation center for 45 years and for the hospital more than 41 years. He worked for the town and county recreation departments as a basketball referee and an umpire for baseball and girls softball. During youth football season, he was the clock and scoreboard keeper. He refereed some basketball games just last week.

Scotty and Niki Vaught knew Butler for years; Butler umpired games when Scotty played as a child and later worked for Scotty at the county recreation department. Niki Vaught has set up a Go Fund Me Account to help pay for Butler’s funeral expenses after his family realized he didn’t have a life insurance policy.

“As many of you have heard by now, a legend in our county has passed,” the Go Fund Me Account says. “He has seen several generations of our county youth go through the program and has been a mentor to each and everyone. Unfortunately, his untimely passing has also come with a few financial hurdles left for the family. At this time, the family is in limbo with arrangements due to this unexpected bump in the road. As they believed him to have an insurance policy, unfortunately that was not the case.”

All money raised will go directly for his funeral expenses, the account says. Cedar Bay Café is also collecting money for the Butler family and a donation jar will be set up at Sandy’s Floral Gallery in Fort Chiswell.

Betty Elmore, the hospital’s director of marketing, said Butler was a patient transporter who took patients from their rooms to surgery.

“He was kind to everyone he met,” Elmore said. “The patients appreciated his professionalism and thoughtfulness. Butler had a fun side to him and kept us all laughing. If you were down, it was Butler who gave you a hug or a smile to brighten your day. He touched so many lives in our community and we will remember him always.”

On social media, people from all over the county paid tribute to Butler.

“I loved Butler,” one person wrote. “Every time I had surgery at the hospital, I would ask for him to take me down and bring me back because he could always keep me calm and my nerves at ease. I loved talking to him at basketball games and football games.”

Another person said Butler made being wheeled into surgery less stressful.

“He made me smile,” she wrote. “I always admired how he worked with young people. So hard to believe he’s in heaven now. Will surely miss him.”

Another poster said she was blessed to know Butler, who was “one of a kind” and “one of the absolute best people ever.”

Scotty Vaught called Butler as “super guy and a super friend.”

“He is going to be truly missed by many,” Vaught added. “He had a heart of gold for kids. He just adored kids and wanted to see them smiling and laughing and having fun.”

To reach reporter Millie Rothrock, call 228-6611, ext. 35, or email mrothrock@wythenews.com

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