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Howard E. Butt Jr., brother of H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt, passed away at his home Sunday evening. He died from complications related to Parkinson’s disease at age 89.
Howard was the oldest son of the local grocery chain’s namesake Howard E. Butt Sr.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of my brother, Howard,” Charles stated in a news release. “His decades of inspired leadership, philanthropy, and humanitarian efforts will forever be missed by our family and those he impacted across the U.S.”
Howard leaves behind a legacy of commitment to the family business, philanthropic service in South Texas communities, and a strong devotion to faith. Though many saw him poised to assume a high-ranking position within H-E-B – he served as vice chairman of the board and was a vital influence on the company’s direction for many decades – he chose a different path.
Born on Sept. 8, 1927 in Kerrville, Texas, he grew up in the grocery business that his grandmother Florence had started in 1905. As a boy he delivered and checked groceries. By 21, he ran his first store. Throughout his time at Baylor University, Howard became entrenched in the Christian youth movement and decided to pursue a path in ministry. He graduated in 1947 with a degree in business, and soon after married his “longtime sweetheart” Barbara Dan Gerber.
Howard Sr. and Mary, established one of Texas’ first foundations for charitable, educational, and philanthropic purposes when they founded the H.E. Butt Foundation in 1933. The organization serves as a vehicle for philanthropic contributions to South Texas communities and includes initiatives pertaining to literacy, tuberculosis, mental illness, and poverty.
In 1954 the couple contributed a 1,900-acre ranch near Leakey, Texas to the foundation and created the basis for an organization that has served almost 1 million Texas families to date.
As Howard’s influence in both the business and the spiritual realm grew, he was regarded as a bridge builder between the secular and religious worlds. Alongside evangelist Billy Graham he founded the Layman’s Leadership Institute and hosted national faith-based programs for business professionals. He authored books on religion, business, and psychology, including: Who Can You Trust?: Overcoming Betrayal and Fear, Renewing America’s Soul: A Spiritual Psychology for Home, Work, and Nation, The High Calling of our Daily Work – Reflections on Daily Living, Renewing the Spirit Healing the Soul.
He received a variety of honors and national recognition throughout his career, including an appointment to the first Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity by President John F. Kennedy; the National Conference for Community and Justice honored him for his service to the San Antonio community; and he received the first Newport Foundation Leadership Award for his work on connecting the secular and religious worlds, among others.
Steady on his path of lay ministry, Howard took over the ecumenical Christian adult retreat center, The Laity Lodge, in 1961 and formed the Laity Lodge Youth Camp five years later. He became president of the H.E. Butt Foundation in 1982 and expanded the organization’s reach in multiple directions. Under his leadership, the Foundation contributed huge amounts of capital for new hospitals, libraries, and charitable and faith-based organizations aimed at improving the community.
Headwaters, a cutting-edge, family-friendly camping facility, became home to Laity Lodge Family Camp and the Foundation Camp program in 2013. These initiatives have enriched the lives of Texas families ever since.
Howard is survived by his younger siblings Charles and Eleanor Butt Crook; his wife Barbara Dan; his daughter Deborah Dan Rogers, who heads the H.E. Butt Foundation with her husband David; his sons Howard Butt III, who runs the H-E-B’s Mexico division, and his wife Pamela, and Stephen Butt, who leads Central Market, and his wife Susan; he is also survived by eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A memorial service celebrating the life and witness of Howard E. Butt Jr., will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17, at Trinity Baptist Church, 319 E. Mulberry Ave. The Porter Loring Mortuary is assisting the family with arrangements. Remembrances may be sent to the Friends of The H.E. Butt Foundation, P. O. Box 290670, Kerrville, Texas 78029.
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Disclosure: H-E-B and its CEO Charles Butt are major donors and advertisers to the Rivard Report. Click here to read more.
Top image: Howard Butt Jr. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.