Camano Island man found joy in helping seniors get around

If a friend on Camano Island needed a ride to see a doctor in Seattle, and the driver had to wait four hours during the appointment, one might only offer to chauffeur once or twice on that mission.

For volunteer Walter Butler, driving the elderly or disabled back and forth from the Camano Senior and Community Center to Seattle appointments was no problem.

He wore out cars on his mission of mercy.

“It was an important thing that he did,” said Joyce Dunn, senior programs and activities coordinator for the Camano Senior and Community Center. “Everybody loved him. He was one of the few drivers who would go to Seattle.”

Walter Anson Butler Jr., 75, died at his Camano Island home Feb. 1 due to a heart condition. In a crowd, you really wouldn’t notice Butler, said Marla Ries, former director of the center.

“He was small of stature (5’4”),” Ries said, “But so big of heart.”

He began volunteering for Camano Senior Services Association in 2000 in the Volunteer Chore Program.

“Walt was interested in driving seniors to their medical appointments, whether it was to Seattle or Bellingham, or three times a week for dialysis,” Ries said. “But everyone soon learned that he wasn’t just a driver; he became a trusted friend of everyone he helped.”

His volunteer efforts didn’t begin and end by driving someone to their appointment.

“He cared, he truly cared, and would go out of his way to make certain that the needs of those he drove were somehow met. If he found that one of his new friends had difficulty with meals, he introduced them to the congregate meals at the Center or to Meals-on-Wheels. If he found that one of his new friends needed socialization, he would introduce them to the Center. He listened, he shared, he cared.”

Although he initially presented himself as a quiet man, he was very articulate with a terrific dry sense of humor, Ries said.

“He had an admirable deep and abiding love of his family,” she added. “He was acutely aware of the world around him, often frustrated by the politics of today and ever true to his own personal political beliefs. He had ethics and morals and was always true to these elements of his character.”

Walter Butler is survived by Penny, his wife of 47 years; sons Edward and his fiance, Gemma Pewitt; John and his fiance, Makenzi Ring; sisters, brothers and in-laws Muriel and Norman Fulwiler, Carolyn and Arthur Thomson, Nita Fulwiler, Dan and Nancy Fulwiler, Ken and Sheila Fulwiler, Ron and Elaine Butler, and Monica Woods. In addition, he leaves a daughter by a former marriage, Alicia Houser; two grandchildren, Arminda Blackwood and Leslie Hunt; two great-grandchildren, Marquise and JoAnn; and numerous aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces.

He was preceded in death by his mother, Eleanor Fulwiler; father, Walter Butler Sr.; and brother, Fred Butler.

Butler was born on June 4, 1931, to Walter and Eleanor (Sinclair) Butler Sr. in Springvale, Maine. He worked for John Fluke Mfg. Company Inc. as well as several electronic companies in the Everett area and also owned his own business, Walt’s Wax Works, a car-detailing service, for a number of years.

As a kid, Butler always protected his younger sister, Carolyn Thomson.

“I followed him around a lot, even to the top of some trees, and he would help me down,” Thomson said. “He teased me a lot, but was not mean. He would sometimes pin my arm behind my back until I promised not to sing opera in front of my mom’s mirrored dresser.”

Her brother gave away his new galoshes to a boy who had worn-out shoes.

“He was friendly and kind to anyone who had a disability and made them feel special,” Thomson said. “He was generous, soft-hearted, and a very funny guy who loved to make people laugh.”

For fun, Butler played slot machines at casinos. The opinionated liberal Democrat was known to savor sunrises at the Country Club on Camano Island. He loved NASCAR races, friends at Elger Bay Grocery, boxing, football and baseball. He wasn’t one for fancy clothes, his wife said, but he always had on a pair of suspenders.

Penny Butler, who met her husband on a blind date, said they went through a number of cars through the years when her husband, a Navy veteran, shuttled folks back and forth to Seattle medical appointments.

“His motto was he would go any place, any time,” Butler said. “He would go at the drop of a hat.”

Laurie Miller, executive director of the senior center, said she could always call on Butler when someone needed a ride.

He had fluffy wings, Miller said.

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451 or

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