Charles J. Butt, coach in the department of athletics emeritus, died on September 14, 2018, in Brunswick, Maine.
(President Rose sent the following letter to the Bowdoin community on September 17, 2018)
I write with the sad news that Coach in the Department of Athletics Emeritus Charlie Butt passed away on Friday, September 14, at the age of ninety-three. Charlie coached men’s swimming at Bowdoin for thirty-nine years, women’s swimming for the first twenty-four years of the program, and served as coach of men’s soccer for twenty-three years. In his active “retirement,” Charlie was an assistant coach for the women’s squash team.
Many in the Bowdoin community know parts of Charlie’s remarkable life story, although no summary can adequately capture the full range of his experiences and contributions to others. Charlie was born on May 19, 1925, in Shanghai, China, to Chinese Portuguese parents. He thrived on the athletic opportunities afforded by the Foreign YMCA of Shanghai, establishing a record of achievement in swimming, basketball, cricket, tennis, water polo, soccer, softball, bowling, and boxing.
He graduated from the Western District Public School in 1941 and studied at St. John’s University in Shanghai for two years, before the Japanese occupation shut down the university during World War II. He worked for the Whaly Chemical Company as a salesman and as an oiler on the Danish ship S.S. Trien Maersk before returning to Shanghai after the war. He picked up where he had left off with his athletic career; he was a member of the national basketball team and held Chinese national records in swimming for the 50-yard, 100-yard, and 100-meter freestyle. He qualified for the 1948 Olympic Games in London as a member of the basketball and swimming teams but was unable to attend when he refused to give up his Portuguese passport to a Chinese government increasingly controlled by the Communist Party. He left China in 1951 on a British cargo vessel to Hong Kong and then to Tokyo, where he obtained a visa to go to the US to attend Springfield College, where he had been admitted before the outbreak of the war.
At Springfield, he was an All-American soccer player in 1952 and 1953, captain of the swimming team, captain of the tennis team, and a member of the national championship volleyball team in his first year playing the sport. He graduated cum laude in 1953 and later earned an MS, also at Springfield. He coached swimming at Springfield for four years, and undertook graduate study at Columbia University Teachers College in 1956 and 1957.
Charlie joined the athletic staff at Bowdoin in 1961 as varsity swimming and soccer coach, and his presence had an immediate impact. His 1962 soccer squad won a share of the first Maine Intercollegiate Athletic Association soccer title, and his 1965, 1966, and 1968 teams won the title outright. When he retired as head coach of the men’s soccer program in 1984, he had set a new school record for career wins with 120, a mark that still stands today. In his first year as swimming coach (1961-1962), he guided the men’s team to its first-ever unbeaten season. That same year, the team placed second at the New England Championships, a feat Charlie’s men’s teams would repeat four times. He was the first coach for the women’s swimming program in 1976-1977; the women’s team won the New England Championship just a dozen years later. In all, Charlie accumulated a record of 132-65 in dual meets with the women’s team and 198 wins with the men’s squad. More than one hundred of his swimmers earned All-American honors.
Charlie received the National Collegiate and Scholastic Swimming Trophy in 1981. The New England Swimming Coaches Association named Charlie coach of the year in 1988 and men’s coach of the year by the Association in 1989. In 1994 he received the Richard E. Steadman Award from the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. He was inducted into the Maine Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame in 2010. The author of various articles on swimming and soccer, Charlie was a member of the American Association for Health, Recreation, and Physical Education and the National Soccer Coaches Association. He served as vice president of the Nassau County Soccer Coaches Association, president of the New England Intercollegiate Swimming Association, and president of the New England Intercollegiate Soccer League. He also served as aquatic and scuba diving commissioner for the State of Maine.
The Bowdoin community will always be reminded of Charlie’s legacy: in the coach’s room named in his honor in Greason Pool (a building he helped to design); in the Charles J. Butt Scholarship Fund established upon his retirement in 2000; in the Charles Butt Swimming Trophy, awarded to an outstanding swimmer in the senior class; in his Alumni Award for Faculty and Staff (2000); and in his induction into the Bowdoin College Athletic Hall of Honor (2003).
No account of Charlie’s athletic prowess and spirit would be complete without mentioning his extraordinary contributions to squash, a sport that he picked up in his forties. Charlie won twenty-three national championships within his age bracket (singles and doubles) and a world title as well. In 2011, Charlie received the US Master’s Achievement Award for his contributions to the sport. In 2017, the Bowdoin court at Portland Community Squash was dedicated in his honor.
Charlie is survived by his partner, Cynthia Osgood; a daughter, Cathleen Butt (“Catie”), and her husband, Brent Arvidson of Windham, Maine; a son, Charles J. Butt Jr. (“C2”), and his partner, Jennifer Hodges, of Seattle, Washington; and four grandchildren, Dylan, Niko, Kai, and Jasper. A memorial service will be held at the College this fall. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Charles J. Butt Scholarship Fund at the College (4100 College Station, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME 04011).
Charlie’s family and friends are in our hearts and thoughts during this time. We share with them our profound gratitude that Charlie found joy in athletic competition and in life, and that he taught so many others to discover that joy for themselves.