FAIRFIELD — Doug Butt was not a large man, but he was a titan on the fitness scene in Fairfield.
Butt, a longtime physical education teacher at Laurel Creek Elementary School, umpire, soccer referee and – perhaps most famously – distance runner extraordinaire, died at his Fairfield home Monday night after a short battle with the blood cancer multiple myeloma. He was 67.
It’s hardly a secret what an impact Butt had on the lives of thousands of young people, whether they were his students, the athletes for whom he officiated, or the hundreds of elementary school children who have competed in the 35 annual Doug Butt Run events to date.
Family and friends agree he was one of the most visible citizens in Fairfield and, perhaps one of the most influential, given his lengthy teaching career, never mind his involvement in running, golf, officiating and tireless promotion of fitness.
Always one to mark his milestone birthdays with big events, Butt took part in 40 different athletic events in eight days leading up to his 40th.
For his 50th it was a 54-mile bike ride and on his 60th it was running 60 miles in the preceding week.
All of that was in addition to the 75,277 miles he ran from July 31, 1964 to Dec. 31, 2004.
“Everybody knew Dad as a runner, they saw him around town,” said Butt’s daughter Lisa Padayao. “One of my friends always said that my dad was willing to run farther than my friend was willing to drive. He was just a staple that way.”
Always a proponent of fitness, especially for young people, Butt remained active almost to the end, taking a golf trip to Scotland in June.
“If you spend 20 days with someone and you still like them at the end, you’re pretty good friends,” said Jim Saylor of Napa, a longtime friend and golf partner of Butt. “We were actually closer at end of trip than when we started. It’s something I will always remember.”
Mourning a friend is never easy.
“It is pretty bad. We go way back to when we played softball together, well over 30 years,” Saylor said.
The pair met when Saylor joined Butt’s softball team at a co-worker’s behest.
“We played softball for years and when I got too old for that, I took up golf,” Saylor said.
Monthly dinners and nearly weekly golf games continued for years.
“I’m a coach, he’s an umpire,” Saylor said, noting the two made quite a pair.
Butt was left-handed, Saylor is a righty. Butt stood around 5 foot, 5 inches, Saylor is taller than 6 feet.
Paraphrasing baseball great Jackie Robinson, Saylor said, “The measure of a man isn’t what he does, it’s how many lives he touches in a positive way.”
There’s no way to know how many lives that totals, but it’s a lot, and it started early.
“I’ve known Doug since my junior year in high school in 1966,” said Mike Dailey, former Fairfield High athletic director and Butt’s former neighbor.
A distance runner, like Butt, Dailey met his future neighbor at an open-course race in Marin County going from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach over Mount Tamalpais.
“Doug ran for Marin Athletic Club – I raced against him in a lot of different races – I ran with the Redwood City Striders,” Dailey said. “I saw him and said, ‘Follow that guy, he knows the course.’ Doug knew the shortcuts. I finished fourth and Doug was sixth.”
That blossomed into an enduring friendship and working relationship as well. Butt coached distance runners at Armijo, when Dailey was coaching track at Fairfield.
“I have nothing but respect for Doug, he’s a class guy. A neat guy,” Dailey said. “You always saw him around town running. In 45 years I know he only missed a handful of days running. It was a very, very sad day when I saw him (Monday). We lost a great man and a great ambassador to the community for physical fitness-type stuff.”
Butt reached so many as he promoted fitness, but it always started with his family, including wife Aileen Butt, Son Kevin and daughter Padayao.
“My dad was just a picture of fitness. I’ve never seen him drink a drop of alcohol. He always took medicine as a last resort. Of course, no smoking. He was a great role model,” Padayao said. “Thanks to my dad, I met a lot of my friends from middle school and high school that way. They had him for PE in elementary school, so a lot of friends knew about me before I knew about them.”
Wherever he went, Butt commanded respect, especially from coaches and players when he was on the field.
“The first time I met Doug was at a baseball game in 1976,” said Brad Hanson, president of the Fairfield Expos Baseball Association. “We were playing with a time limit on the game. I can just picture him saying, ‘We got one minute left.’ ”
Hanson said he hopes to find some way to honor Butt’s memory next season.
“We want to recognize him for all of his contributions. His contributions went way beyond the scope of baseball,” Hanson said. “He probably touched the lives of more people in the community than anybody In the city.”
A feeling Saylor shared.
“We couldn’t go to dinner without (seeing) one of his former students,” Saylor said. “He made a big impact on Fairfield without a doubt. How many people have a sporting event named after them. I don’t.”
Butt’s final months began with shoulder trouble on the Scotland trip.
Hip trouble and back injuries finally sent him to the doctor, where tests eventually revealed the extent of the cancer.
Padayao said Butt was diagnosed on Aug. 22.
“The symptoms didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary, typical running injuries,” Padayao said. “Stiffness in his hips. He had some back pain in mid-July. It was just ‘Put some ice on it, take some Tylenol.’ When it kept getting worse, he went to the doctor.”
Padayao said doctors also found a number of tumors, one of which doctors said Butt may have lived with for as long as 20 years.
“That just proves to you how strong my dad was. It speaks so strongly about what a fighter he was.” she said.
Butt came home from the hospital for the last time on Oct. 1. Padayao said she went to check on him Monday night when he stopped breathing.
“I saw him take his last breath.Then I just sat there and held his hand for four hours until they took him away. I just couldn’t let him go,” she said. “He was so loved.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.