I’m mighty fond of our Opinion editor Jennifer Brown, but she has recently been causing me problems by stealing my column ideas.
For instance, last Saturday she wrote a beautiful tribute to the late Marshall Butler.
Although she probably wasn’t told that I was planning a column about Marshall for today, she did know that we often write of very special people in our column.
Well, I’m not going to let her stop me. Marshall was one of those very special people, and was a good friend that I’ve known since he was a very young man and I was a little girl.
The fact is, I know a story about Marshall that Jennifer probably doesn’t know.
As we’ve reported several times, Marshall Butler, who died March 31, was a concert pianist, a music educator and a community character, known from walking everywhere, known also as a “cat man” and known for limericks, which his friend William Turner loved to hear but said he doubted they should be printed.
Marshall was a veteran of World War II and a member of First United Methodist Church, where he often played the piano for worship services until he was nearly 100 years old.
While serving in the Army, he took advantage of any opportunity to play the piano.
As he and other soldiers were searching houses in a war-torn town, he spotted a grand piano in one of the houses and immediately sat down and started to play, causing the lady of the house to come in. As she listened to the beautiful music, she said to him, “I’m so glad you weren’t killed.” Without missing a beat, his comment was, “So am I.”
In addition, he was for a brief time my dance partner.
We were a featured attraction in a program, which was the entertainment for a kick-off banquet for a membership drive for the Community Concert Association.
The program chairman asked Marshall and yours truly to come up with an entertaining act.
Well, we ordered beautiful costumes from a Nashville business.
We donned the outfits, me in a colorful, ruffled Spanish dancer dress, complete with a slit in the skirt and the shoes of a dancer while Marshall was stunning in his Spanish outfit — the fitted short jacket, a dancer’s shoes, tight pants and a large hat, all in black.
We then danced on the stage of the convention center, and I found out that Marshall wasn’t only an accomplished musician but a good dancer.
However, the act was something that no one was expecting, and as we swirled around the stage to lively Spanish music, the applause was great, and if I remember correctly, we received a standing ovation.
Somewhere there’s a photo to prove we actually did that, but in a maze of a lifetime of collected photos, I failed to find it.
Marshall had a house full of cats. It seemed cats just gravitated to his home on Bryan Street. We wondered if those cats just liked to enjoy beautiful music as Marshall practiced for hours each day.
Some of his friends, roasting Marshall, often said, “He just played around and never worked a day in his life,” but that wasn’t true.
As a little boy, he sold Saturday Evening Post magazine.
While working to establish his career, he had several jobs, once at the Peter Fox and Son local chicken factory, and during the years he was attending school in Nashville, he worked at the White Way Laundry.
Marshall Butler was a friend of our family, but he meant so very much, especially to yours truly as he one of those people who helped me as a very young child learn to appreciate his talents and the beautiful music we would hear him perform.
My husband, who agrees with Marshall that classical music, which as Marshall used to say, “was the only kind of music that counts.”
Marshall had a way of giving people crazy nicknames, and when he learned that Ferguson was studying piano, he started calling him Paderewski and until his dying day, that became Marshall’s name for Fergie.
Someday I’ll hear Rachmaninoff, Brahms, Schubert and “Claire deLune” and again I’ll enjoy it, but it won’t sound like Marshall Butler’s unforgettable renditions.
Mary D. Ferguson is a staff writer and columnist for the Kentucky New Era. Her column runs every Saturday. She can be reached by telephone at 270-887-3230.