Successful businessman renowned for his good works
By Jim Flint for Ashland.news
Charles “Chuck” Butler of Ashland, a retired auto dealer whose passion for community betterment left an indelible mark on countless lives, died Sunday, May 21, just three days shy of his 84th birthday.
With his wife, Linda, he founded the Butler Automotive Group, which grew to operate four dealerships selling seven different brands. The Butler family of dealerships, along with the Butler collision repair shop, rental agency, and service centers, employed more than 120 at their locations in Ashland and Medford.
The company, which included Butler Ford, Acura, Hyundai and Kia, was sold in 2021 to Kiefer Automotive Group, based in Eugene.
Butler was a cherished local philanthropist and a member of numerous Southern Oregon boards and organizations. He was known for his work with the Boys and Girls Club of the Rogue Valley, Britt Music Festival, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland Lions Club, and Ashland Rotary Club, among others.
He was nominated in 2016 for the 2017 TIME Magazine Dealer of the Year along with 48 other auto dealers. He served on the board of directors of the Southern Oregon State College Foundation, the Ashland Community Hospital Foundation (past president), the San Francisco Region Ford Dealers Advertising Association, and the Southern Oregon University Raider Club.
Marc Bayliss of Ashland, immediate past president of the SOU Foundation Board of Trustees, served with Butler on several local nonprofits’ boards.
“Chuck was a steady, calm presence who could resolve sticky, complex issues with reason based upon reality,” Bayliss said. “I looked up to him when I was young because I valued his wisdom.”
Bayliss remembers asking Butler, after a board meeting, about his secret for success in business.
“He told me, with his ever-present smile, ‘I know it sounds trite, but it’s true: Take care of your employees and they will take care of you.’ I have followed and shared his wisdom with all who have the humility to benefit from it,” Bayliss said.
Jerry Kenefick, a retired Ashland certified financial planner, remembers Butler fondly.
“Typically, Chuck gave of himself without asking for anything in return, including recognition,” Kenefick said.
“After being affected with cancer, Chuck became a large part of the Relay for Life, including donating medallions for participants. And when the Ashland Methodist Church youth program needed transportation, Chuck didn’t just give them a ride, he donated a van.
“His heart was big. His footprint was large,” Kenefick said.
Butler was born in Buffalo, New York. When his father moved the family to California and began working in the car business, he allowed 12-year-old Chuck to wash cars on his lot. Over the next few years, he worked in many departments of the business, drove a parts truck, and eventually moved into sales.
He served in the Air National Guard and on active duty in the Air Force. He earned a degree in business administration at UCLA and took over his father’s business in 1966.
It was at that Torrance, California, dealership where Butler met Linda, whom he married three years later.
A bio of Butler on the firm’s former website noted he also had other business interests. He was a partner in Steelhead Finance in Medford, and CPM Real Estate Services with locations in Medford, Ashland and Grants Pass.
One of his passions away from work was boating. He and his wife bought their first boat, a canoe, as newlyweds. By the time they retired, they were getting away from it all on a slightly larger vessel which they named Comme Je Trove, a French idiom roughly translated, “As I find things” or “Take it as it comes.”
He is survived by his wife, three children, and six grandchildren.
Reach writer Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 24 update: Numbers of children and grandchildren corrected.