, Salem, MA

March 6, 2013

Our view: Long-awaited diploma richly deserved

The Salem News

---- — A letter writer on these pages wondered yesterday if Beverly could best be labeled “America’s Town.”

Citing the huge (and well-earned) popularity of the city’s homegrown “American Idol” contestant Angela Miller, the high school football team’s Super Bowl season and strong community spirit, resident Dominic Copeland said, “I believe that the Spirit of America is alive and well here in Massachusetts, and perhaps small towns like Beverly represent the heartbeat of that spirit.”

While we don’t play favorites on these pages, we couldn’t help but remember that statement after meeting Fred Butler, who received his Beverly High School diploma on Monday at the age of 106.

Butler, born in 1906, dropped out of school in the ninth grade to work full time in a printing shop to help support his mother and five siblings. It was a sacrifice that would be unheard of today.

Butler, described by those who know him as humble, hardworking and honest, went on to work for the city water department and serve in World War II while raising five children with his wife of 65 years, Ruth, who passed away last September.

Still, the lack of a diploma ate at him, and he always made sure his children and grandchildren knew the importance of a good education, never hesitating to reward a dedicated student with a few dollars after a good report card.

So it was fitting that Butler’s family and city and school officials came together Monday to award him with an honorary diploma at a ceremony in the high school library. The recipient was predictably low-key. “I want to thank everybody who is responsible for this. I certainly appreciate it.”

Mayor Bill Scanlon declared the day “Frederick J. Butler Day,” telling the newly minted graduate, “It’s a long time to wait for your diploma, but you’ve obviously earned it very well.”

It’s events like these — small but moving expressions of community togetherness, played out in all of our cities and towns — when we think folks like Copeland have a point. There’s something special about living in this part of the world.