David Butler

Obituary of David Gordon Butler



Professor Emeritus



Quietly, peacefully, on February 2, 2022, David left our world supported by a strong faith and a loving family.


David enjoyed a long and happy life full of many adventures, both professional and with his family. Born in 1936 to Gordon Henry Butler and Mary Isobel Butler of Vancouver, David was the older brother of John Sharman Butler (deceased) and Dean Henry Butler (Gail Irvine). David was surrounded by a large extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins and stories of those times are fondly told today. David had a special bond with his grandmother, Hattie Dean Sharman Mullett, who owned a scenic seaside property in Grantham’s Landing, on the Sunshine Coast. It may have been there that he discovered his love of the outdoors and his fascination with nature that would become his calling.


As a young man, David devoted his spare time to Scouting Canada. He collected badges and attended jamborees at an astounding rate, and was very proud to be selected as the Vancouver representative of Scouting Canada at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. This trip across the ocean in 1953, sparked a lifelong fascination with England, and his own roots.


David’s curiosity led him to a life in academia. His achievements were many and included Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of British Columbia. Then, with the help of a grant from the Ontario Research Foundation, he found his path back to England, and the University of Sheffield. There he earned his PhD and later a DSc, played center for the championship basketball team, and most importantly met Marjorie Schofield, his future wife, who was studying for her degree in Biology.


On return to Canada, David was appointed to the Department of Zoology at the University of Toronto where he taught for over 50 years, and where he became well known for his strong principles, always with a view to the best way to serve students to whom his office door was always open. Later his teaching extended to the Department of Physiology in the Faculty of Medicine. David and family enjoyed three sabbaticals at the University of Cambridge where he was associated with Christ’s College, and later with Gonville and Caius College and King’s College, and while at King’s, he felt honored to be asked to read the Lesson at Evensong. David was particularly proud that many of his graduate students have become successful university professors and researchers in their own right. As professor emeritus, his own research activities and engagement with students extended for many years beyond his retirement and his love of discovery and questioning never left him.


In his middle years, David’s curiosity led him to Karate and, as with many things, he worked hard and progressed to earn his 3rd Dan black belt!


Later, David became fascinated by genealogy and was proud to trace his branch of the Butler family back to the 1560’s. Trips to England often included multiple stops to scour church records and wander through church yards.


That research engendered an interest in heraldry and David earned a Licentiate of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada. It was this latter interest that led David to write a book ‘Bishop John Strachan and Heraldry in the University of Trinity College, Toronto’ published in 2013. David was the current holder of the Barony of Kells in County Kilkenny, one of few extant Irish feudal baronies, and long held by members of the Butler family.


And there was another dimension to David’s life; his continued love of British Columbia and, particularly, the family retreat at Grantham’s Landing where David enjoyed almost all his summers for over 75 years. Much of that time was spent at the kitchen table where, looking across to Keats Island, the Lions and the Gap, he would lead lively conversations and share stories about the past and dreams of the future. Many summer mornings, David woke his sons Andrew and Ian, with the refrain “Wakey, wakey, rise and shine, it’s morning in the swamps!” Then with coffees done, he’d teach them how to build a dinghy, shingle a roof, mix large volumes of cement, install a French drain, a set of stairs, almost all one needs to know about building a whole house, to row, sail, waterski and to navigate a boat and dock it with skill. Fishing expeditions were also considered part of his sons’ education. The salmon and Dungeness crabs they caught together were a valued part of the summer menu and enjoyed by the many friends who knew there was always a welcome seat on the deck of David and Marjorie’s cottage. The appearance of David’s red and white truck on the local streets was the signal for many that those summer gatherings were about to begin!


David was devoted to Marjorie and they were side by side until the end. His sons, Andrew and Ian, were his delight and pride. Sadly, Andrew predeceased David but was remembered each day with great affection and admiration. David’s second son, Ian, and his wife Isabelle Bissonnette, brought him great joy which was increased by the arrival of their children, Sarah, Charles and James. He loved talking with his grandchildren, reveled in their growth, and was immensely proud of them.


So many happy times. David will be sadly missed and fondly remembered by his family and his friends.


Keep dreaming, Dad.


David’s family physician, Dr. Janet Morse, was an unfailing source of care, compassion and guidance. Sincere thanks to his caregivers, Judith, Arlene, Hilda, Vilma, Gennifer, Raquel, Tim, Remy, Celia and Richard, and his nurses, Sonya, Oleg and Rita, whose loving care enabled David to remain in his home.


A small family service will be held at St Paul’s Bloor Street.  Condolences may be forwarded through www.humphreymiles.com.


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