Hugh Cato Butler

Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2011 12:00 am

On July 23, 2011, Dr. Hugh Cato Butler, DVM, 86, passed away in his sleep of natural causes in his hometown of Austin, Texas.

Dr. Hugh C. Butler was the oldest son of Dr. William John Butler and John Ozella (Cato) Butler, born in Helena on Jan. 7, 1925. In a ceremony held on the Two Medicine River in 1939, Hugh Butler became an adopted member of the Blackfeet Tribe with the name “Flying Eagle.” Since that date, he was intrigued with Native American culture. He attended Hawthorne Elementary School, Helena High School and was a graduate of the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, N.M.

Dr. Butler served as a WWII infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 as a private first class with the 393rd Infantry Regiment, 99th Division. In October and November 1944, the 99th Division stopped the German advance, preventing the enemy’s capture of the road system leading south into allied territory. While Pvt. Butler was slogging his way through the Belgian Ardennes forest lugging a heavy 15-pound Browning automatic rifle, U.S. Senator Burton K. Wheeler from Montana nominated Hugh to attend West Point military academy.

It was once said that: “life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Thus, as in the celebrated book and film “Saving Private Ryan,” a directive was given to an Army patrol to find Pvt. Hugh C. Butler, who was somewhere in the Ardennes battle lines, and return him safely to West Point. After several weeks of diligent and dogged searching, the patrol discovered Pvt. Butler’s unit in the middle of a deadly firefight, pinned down by heavy fire from a German machine gun nest. In order to safely extricate him, the American patrol had to destroy the machine gun nest.

Pvt. Butler was whisked out the European Theatre of Operations by riding in the second seat of a P-38 Lightning, hop-scotching its way across the Atlantic Ocean. He landed back in the United States on Dec. 4, 1944.

Although he did not attend West Point, he nonetheless received an officer’s commission and was honorably discharged from duty on April 14, 1946, as a second lieutenant. Like many, he did not readily speak about his combat experiences, but he went on to lead a distinguished professional career.

He subsequently earned a bachelor’s degree in applied science and a master’s degree in microbiology from Montana State College (now MSU-Bozeman), and a doctor of veterinary medicine degree and a master’s degree in physiology, both from Washington State University in Pullman, Wash.

While attending Montana State University in 1947, he met Jacqueline Mary Schlitgus, of Rochester, Minn. She was instantly smitten with Hugh and thought his rugged good looks resembled her screen idol, Gary Cooper. The feelings were reciprocal and they married on Aug. 7, 1948, and they remained inseparable for 61 years.

Dr. Butler served as a professor of animal surgery at Washington State University in Pullman until 1964 when he began conducting medical research at the Sloane Kettering Institute in Manhattan, N.Y. The orthopedic surgical techniques he pioneered and developed helped advance the science of artificial joint replacement. Dr. Butler also earned recognition for his pioneering medical research in kidney transplantation. He and Dr. Joe Desch performed the first two successful renal transplants in dogs. In 1974, Dr. Butler received the John E. McCoy Award from Washington State University for his outstanding work in clinical veterinary medicine.

He served as a professor of surgery at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., from 1968 until his retirement in 1986. In 2000, in light of his professional achievements and meritorious service to science, he was chosen to receive the prestigious E.R. Frank Award from Kansas State University.

He was the author of numerous medical research publications and refereed papers, and was a member of several professional and educational organizations, including the American Society of Nephrology, American Society of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology, American Heart Society, American Veterinary Medical Association, and a charter member of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. He also was a member of several honorary societies, including Alpha Psi, Phi Zeta, and the Sigma Xi Association. He was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity in Bozeman.

In 1986, Dr. Butler retired to Bigfork with his wife Jacqueline, where they spent several happy years in their log cabin home at Many Lakes. Hugh took active part in the community and served as a volunteer emergency medical technician. Subsequently, Dr. and Mrs. Butler moved to Austin to live closer to their sons, John and Ben Butler, and their families.

Although cerebral and professorial, in his early years Hugh was a “rugged outdoorsman” and enjoyed hunting and fishing, alpine skiing, scuba-diving and boating with great relish. He was noted for peculiar dietary preferences: munching on dog kibble while doing research in the lab and eating fried pork crackles around the campfire. If Hugh was cooking a meal, you could rest assured that meat was on the menu.

Dr. Butler is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Cato and Dora Butler of Helena; son and daughter-in-law, Daniel and Sheri Butler of Elgin, Ill.; their son, Hugh Christopher Butler; their daughter, Elizabeth Orcutt, and her husband, Matthew Orcutt;  son and daughter-in-law, John and Judy Butler of Austin; their daughter, Camille Butler; their son, Samuel Butler; daughter-in-law, Nell Butler of Pflugerville, Texas; and her daughter, Rebekah Alfaro, and her husband, Marin Alfaro; his niece, Sioux Roth of Helena, and her husband, Timothy Roth, and their sons, Tyson Roth and Samuel Roth; his niece, Cheye Ann Butler of Libby, and her husband, Robert Slomski; and a nephew, Tommy Butler of Helena, and his wife, Nancy Butler, and their two daughters, Megan Butler and Sarah Butler.

Dr. Butler is pre-deceased by his parents; his wife, Jacqueline Schlitgus Butler; and his son, Benjamin James Butler.

The Butler family extends its thanks and appreciation to all of the staff at Heartland Health Care and Odyssey Hospice in Austin for their care, friendship, and kindness.

Private memorial services for Dr. Butler will be held in Montana.

Memorial gifts may be donated to: Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, The Duke Ellington Building, 2121 Ward Ct., NW, 5th Floor Washington, DC 20037.