Washington Butler amazed our Tennessee Organizers family every day. In an organization where the average member’s age is probably 22, we were stunned that a man his age had the desire or dedication to join. Yet Washington showed up each morning, enthusiastic and eager, ready to share his life’s lessons with us and to learn from each of our experiences. We knew him for a short time, but there are times in life where a brief encounter are all that’s necessary for you to be touched by someone. Washington touched each of us with his magnificent smile and generous spirit. We are proud to have had the opportunity to cross paths with him, to be felt by him, to feel him, and to become part of his extended network of friends and family. He was a good man who died too young. But we must accept that God has plans for each of us, and be thankful we had the pleasure and blessing of his acquaintance. We hope that we can all stand and reach the standard he set in life. Washington embodied the very substance of this campaign. He was brought to this place in this time to fight for a country he mightily believed in. And He believed in each of us. We shall never forget him. We would like his loved ones to know that we are now your family, and you ours for all time.
Memories from the Summer Organizer family
I don't remember the first time I met Washington, but I remember when he introduced himself to the OFA summer organizers. As soon as he mentioned working on Shirley Chisholm’s campaign, I was hooked. Washington lived, breathed, and loved politics. I think most people would agree that he loved to tell his stories, whether they were from his work on campaigns in the 1970s or his work on the President's campaign in '08. For a political campaign newbie like me, Washington was an inspiring and thoughtful mentor. My greatest regrets are not being able to learn more from Washington, and not having the chance to hear one more story of his life.
The last time I spoke with Washington he told me he admired my spirit and my courage to fight and persevere through struggles. He told me to continue being the person I am, and reassured me it would take me far. He also applauded my husband for his achievements due to them both working in Oak Ridge and being scientists! I’m truly saddened by his passing. My prayers and condolences go out to his family and friends during this time.
I never talked to Washington personally because I attended the two day training. But I remember him and want to say I am inspired by a man who would support President Obama during a serious illness and during the valuable last months of his life.
Sarah Elizabeth M.
Going into the Tennessee Organizer program, I never thought I would meet and learn from a man as wise and caring as Washington Butler. What Washington represented was what we were all fighting for. From watching Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak on his dream for America to watching President-elect Barack Obama give his victory speech in Chicago, Washington saw it all. I suppose I was lucky because Washington and I went to lunch just days before he died. I wanted to have more time to soak up Washington's wisdom and knowledge. I asked him if he ever thought there would be a black president in his lifetime, and he told me something that I will never forget: he told me that despite what we all commonly hear in the news, despite the injustices that make headlines, and despite the common belief that America was not ready for a black president, he knew that the character of this country was strong, and that America was ready to elect the very best candidate regardless of the color of his skin. Hearing these words from Washington inspired me, and I thought about how far race relations had progressed during his lifetime, and I thought despite all our progress, I will be more motivated than ever to continue to fight for what Washington was fighting for which was the very, very best for this country. To my friend Washington: I will see you in heaven, and we will laugh it up when I get there. I will remember your smile, and how you loved this country forever. God Bless.
I just wanted to share how truly special Washington Butler was. I'll never forget in training how he told us we needed to speak loudly for seniors and always make sure we’re heard and understood, because often seniors may miss something and may not feel comfortable saying so. That thought never occurred to me. I think that was the first time I understood you really need to pay attention to the needs of your audience in order to communicate effectively. He was truly an extraordinary man who had lots of wisdom to share. My only regret is not being able to talk with him more. May his family take comfort that he worked for freedom and equality til the end of his days, and remember you are never too old to fight the good fight.
I first met Washington Butler on June 5 at the OFA Summer Organizer Intern week of training. Over the course of the week, Washington was there every day, participating fully in every part of this training. In my conversations with him, I think it’s fair to say that I learned more from him than he could possibly have learned from me. He told me about his experience running for the Democratic nomination for Tennessee governor in the 70s as the only African American candidate, and how the fact that he was African American seemed to provoke more discussion than the actual issues which needed to be debated. I am so pleased that Washington witnessed the election of our first African American President, and was able to work for his election in 2008 and begin working for his re-election in 2012, and to elect President Obama based on his principled stand on issues.
As Regional Lead, I had regular check-in calls with Washington twice each week. I looked forward to these calls and hearing his calm and determined voice as we talked about the work he was doing to contact supporters in his team turf. Sometimes, he would tell me that he just had not had a good day and did not feel well, but that he did not want that to be an excuse for not doing the work that needed to be done. Then he would say, “I will have something to report to you next time!” And he always did. In fact, the last time I spoke with him, on June 27, he had just returned from a 1on1 meeting with a new volunteer who, with a couple of friends, wanted to get involved in the 2012 campaign, and he reported that the meeting went well.
In the few short weeks that I knew Washington, I was in the presence of a man who lived the courage of his convictions. He understood the urgency of our mission to make our country a better place, where all of us are empowered to participate in our government as full and free citizens. He lived courageously until the very end of his life, and taught all of us what it means to be committed to this cause in spite of the challenges he faced every day. I am so grateful to have known him for this short time and to have learned from him how to live with courage and conviction.
Lenda Sherrell – Nashville Regional Lead, Obama Campaign 2012
Before his Summer Organizer interview, I remember pausing and thinking, “I wonder if he can do this?” I picked up the phone and called him; later during our interview, he told me his story, describing his life’s experiences, and then he explained how much he wanted to be part of this program. I remember thinking, “I shouldn’t be interviewing him; he should be interviewing me!” Washington brought a wealth of experience, a humble attitude, passion, and commitment to the Tennessee Summer Organizers. I couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have him in the organization. Washington could easily have said, “I’ve learned enough, I’m an expert and there’s nothing new you guys can teach me. Besides, I’ve done my service and my time – now it’s you guys’ time to work hard.” But he was committed and willing to do the hard work of our organization. During the training, he easily could have reminded all of us of his ample experience, but instead he participated in our training with joy, enthusiasm, humility, a curiosity for learning, and a desire to fully engage and work with his team and peers. Once, while teaching a technical component, I remember getting down next to him to demonstrate - his response was, “No no, I only learn it if I have to do it..” and he made me step back so he could practice and teach himself. He never stopped learning or wanting to learn and he was never afraid of the hard work.
I have two sons – one three years old, one nine months - and I think of the example I want to set for them. I want to set the example I observed in Washington – and man who was so fully committed to his beliefs he walked the talk and practiced what he preached even in the most difficult of circumstances. Though I knew him only a short time, I know from my colleagues who worked with him in North Carolina and across Tennessee that Washington set an example of service, commitment, and responsibility that embodied the kind of leadership that makes our country great - one person at a time taking responsibility for empowering and enabling others. He will be missed, but already his service and commitment has inspired those that worked alongside him and saw what one man can do, even when life was at its most difficult.
As our family of volunteers learned of his passing, the high school and college students and other volunteers who looked up to him so much and watched Washington everyday making calls, talking with supporters, overcoming new challenges, and submitting himself to always learn something new, were challenged to embrace the same commitment, dedication, and tireless determination.
Justin Wilkins, Tennessee State Director for the Barack Obama 2012 Campaign