Professor of History Emeritus Jeffrey Butler Dies at 85

Jeffrey Butler, professor of history emeritus, died on April 22 in Middletown. He was 85 years old.

Professor Butler was born and raised in Cradock, South Africa. He saw active duty in World War II and was wounded outside of Florence in 1944 resulting in the loss of his left arm. After the War, Professor Butler completed doctoral studies at Oxford University and came to the United States in the late 1950s.

Professor Butler joined the Wesleyan faculty in 1965 and served with distinction until his retirement in 1991. He was twice chair of the History Department and was a key member of the College of Social Studies. In 1977, Butler was a founder and subsequently a director of the Yale-Wesleyan Southern African Research Program.

“South African studies was a highly charged field in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly for a white South African. Yet Jeff’s wisdom, generosity, and ready wit endeared him to all who knew him, regardless of race, ethnicity, or political persuasion,” says colleague and Professor of History Richard Elphick. “In my thirty-six years at Wesleyan I have known few figures more deeply respected and loved by students, colleagues, and professional acquaintances than Jeff Butler.”

Professor Butler’s first book, The Liberal Party and the Jameson Raid (Oxford 1968) was lauded as a model of thorough scholarship. He also collaborated with Elphick and David Welsh on South African Liberalism: Its History and Prospect, published by Wesleyan University Press in 1987, and wrote many articles and scholarly papers.

Professor Butler continued his scholarship well into retirement, devoting more than a decade to writing a major history on his home town of Cradock. This work addresses matters rarely discussed in historiographies of South Africa, including public health and environmental issues, all in the context of addressing deepening racial segregation and, ultimately, apartheid. Although Professor Butler suffered a stroke in 2001 and was unable to complete this project, it is now being readied for publication by his friends and colleagues.

Professor Butler is survived by Valerie, his wife of 60 years, and three children: Katherine “Katy,” Peter and Jonathan.
Donations in Professor Professor Butler’s memory may be made to Wesleyan University for the Professor Butler Prize in History. The family requests that they receive no phone calls at this time, but welcomes written correspondence sent to the Butler home at 296 Pine Street, Middletown, CT 06457.