Bob Butler, seen in 2015, was a fixture courtside at the Augusta Civic Center for decades during the annual state high school basketball tournaments. Photo courtesy of Crystal Butler

Maine lost one of its top ambassadors for high school sports – particularly basketball – when Bob Butler died Saturday. He was 96.

Butler was a longtime fixture at York High School, where he was a coach and athletic director. He was also the unofficial statistician and historian of the Maine Principals’ Association’s basketball tournament and the keeper of the Heal points, which determined the tournament standings.

His son, Rob Butler Jr., said Butler died Saturday morning surrounded by family members at the Sentry Hill senior living center in York, where he had lived for the last two years.

“That’s a tremendous loss to the sports community,” said Marshwood High Athletic Director Rich Buzzell. “Bob was just such a good guy. I remember Bob from when I was growing up and he was the AD at York. He’s a legend around here, a larger-than-life guy, as nice a man as you could ever meet.”

The gymnasium at York High is named after Butler, as are the awards presented each year to the outstanding male and female basketball players in the Western Maine Conference.

Butler was inducted into the inaugural class of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014. “He enjoyed that more than he did when he entered the New England (Basketball Hall of Fame),” said Rob Butler Jr. “It was more important to him.”

Bob Butler was known for his dry wit and his storytelling, which could keep people entertained for hours. He also had a tremendous ability to recount the great moments in Maine high school sports history.

“He will be sadly missed,” said Rick Clark, the retired York High girls’ basketball coach who was hired by Butler in 1971 to coach the boys’ junior varsity team. “He had a way of putting you at ease pretty quickly.  It was pretty clear that he was someone who cared about people deeply, kids in particular and adults working with kids, like teachers and coaches. He just put you at ease, he was that comfortable to be around.”

Rob Jr., said his father never missed any games that he, his brother David or sister Wanda, and any of their children, played in. “He was just a kid person and a people person” he said.

Robert E. Butler was born on March 15, 1924 in Salem, Massachusetts. His parents, who were from Machias, were returning to Maine from their home in Waterbury, Connecticut. “Salem was as far as they made it,” said Rob Jr.

Butler would grow up in Machias, Lubec and Bar Harbor, where he would meet his wife, Gertrude. They married after he returned  from serving in Europe in WWII and eventually moved south, settling in York in 1952.

He began keeping the Heal points which set the basketball tournament pairings in the 1960s – at first calculating them long-hand, then with a calculator and finally with a computer – and continued to do so until 2009, when the MPA went to a web-generated system. At times, Gertrude would keep the girls’ standings. Later, his son David helped him keep them.

Bob Butler also kept tournament scoring records for the MPA and maintained several books with the scores of every tournament game ever played in the state.

He and Gertrude were familiar faces courtside at the Augusta Civic Center. Gertrude died on Feb. 20, 2008, on a Wednesday during Tourney Week. Bob would continue to go to the basketball tournaments in Augusta until 2016, when his family finally persuaded him to stop. “It was a tough decision for him,” said David Butler. “But he understood.”

Clark said Butler’s influence on the MPA basketball tournament cannot be overstated. “It would have never come around the way it did,” said Clark.

Family members said visiting hours will be held from 1-3 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Saturday at the Lucas Easton Funeral Home in York. Counting family members, there can only be 50 people in the building at the same time.

A private funeral will be held Sunday at 1 p.m., then the family will conduct a drive-by at two of Butler’s favorite places: Nubble Light and York High School. They should arrive at the high school around 2:30 p.m. Sunday for anyone who wants to pay respect to Butler.

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