Patsy Daniel Butler, 82, passed away peacefully at home in St. Augustine, Florida, on June 4, surrounded by her loved ones and under the care of Community Hospice.
The only child of Bill and Elizabeth Daniel, Butler was born Aug. 6, 1938, in Wadsworth, but grew up in Wetumpka. From a young age, she was drawn to both drama and dance, and honed these skills from elementary school throughout her college days. A graduate in elementary education from The University of Alabama's Class of ‘60, she carried her love for her alma mater and its football team throughout her life, not only as a die-hard Bama fan but as a SEC football super fan.
She was a teacher for more than 20 years throughout the United States and for the U.S. Air Force in Bermuda and Pakistan. She retired from Edgewood Academy as a beloved first grade teacher and Drill Team founder/sponsor.
Her passion in life (other than her family) was the theater. In 1979, she and several friends decided their town needed a community theater, and so the Wetumpka Depot Players were born. Including the word “depot” in the name honored both part of the town’s and Butler’s family histories — the group’s first home was in the old L&N railroad depot where Butler’s grandfather had served as station master.
Butler corralled a band of volunteers to scrape decades of paint off the building through a long hot summer, and eventually it was transformed into a usable performance hall in time for its first production in 1980. And though early patrons had to use hand held paper fans in the summer and wrap in blankets in the winter, the Depot Players grew and thrived, moving into an upgraded venue in 1999. For more than 40 years, it has introduced countless area residents of all ages to the magic of community theater, carrying on the legacy of Butler and many dedicated volunteers.
She directed and appeared in more than 90 productions during her life in Alabama, and after moving to St. Augustine more than 15 years ago, she brought those skills to the Limelight Theatre, teaching and directing several main stage performances and children’s plays there.
The Wetumpka Depot was a gleam in the eye of Patsy Butler over 40 years ago," said the Depot's Artistic Director Kristy Meanor. "It was her vision, along with a handful of other Depot founders, to start a community theatre. That vision and her dedication propelled the Depot into a thriving group that has flourished and been recognized even on the national stage. Artistic accomplishments aside, what I think Patsy contributed most was setting the tone for our group to be welcoming to all members in our community, whether on stage, behind the scenes or in the audience. She will be missed but her legacy lives on at 300 S. Main St.”
She was the consummate hostess of late-night theatre cast parties where the problems of the world were often solved, and if they weren’t, just hearing her distinctive peaks of laughter somehow made things seem better. And her wit and wisdom weren’t just confined to personal interactions. For someone who never used Facebook, she had quite a following due to her daughter's sharing of her down-home anecdotes and wry, sometimes laugh-out loud, observations on life.
Butler was simply a force of nature, as vibrant as her perfectly coiffed red hair, squeezing every drop out of life and encouraging others to do the same. A grand Southern dame, a witty Steel Magnolia with that unmistakable laugh and a voice that could bring you to heel when she caught you screwing up. She was known for her infamous “in the car talks,” where she not so gently guided/corrected not only her daughter and grandchildren, but also their friends, her friends, multiple drill team members and anyone else she cared about.
Butler’s surviving family includes her daughter Beth Butler Lambert and her grandchildren Rachel Robertson and Butler Robertson, whom she adored and who followed her footsteps into the world of theater; her close friend Patric Robinson, who she loved dearly and collaborated with on numerous productions together, on stage, off stage and backstage. And of course, Stanley.
A Celebration of Life will be held on Aug. 29 at 2 p.m. at The Wetumpka Depot Players. Contributions honoring the life force that was Patsy Butler can be made to the Wetumpka Depot Players (P.O. Box 1031, Wetumpka, AL 36092) toward Patsy’s Playhouse, a script lending library for patrons and students.