Note, added May 17th:
I’ve been getting a number of visitors to this post who knew Julian and are searching for information on his death. I want to put a brief disclaimer: I am proud to have been a friend of Julian’s, and I was devastated to hear of his death. However, I knew him for less than two years, and can only record my own, limited, personal impressions of a man who lived a long, full, and colourful life. This is a personal blog, generally read only by my close friends and family; I did not intend to write a eulogy encompassing everything that Julian was. Some of his friends have been gracious enough to leave their comments, expanding upon what I have written and bringing their own memories of a wonderful man and a great spirit. Please read their comments and add your own, if you feel so moved.
On April 28th, my friend Julian Butler died of heart failure.Me, Alex, and Julian at the Gat in Ghanzi, on my birthday in 2010.
I met Julian very soon after arriving in Botswana. I was still reeling from my arrival in D’Kar, and had just met the tiny expat/Peace Corps crowd in the village. It was Sunshine’s birthday and – still jetlagged – I tagged along for a long, dark, confusing night of birthday partying. Our first stop was the Thakadu bar. “Julian wants us to come,” Sunshine said. “Birthdaayyy!”
As we bumped along the rutted bush track in her faithful Toyota Tazz, CV offered this advice: “Don’t worry about Julian – he can be a perv, but he’s really the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.”
Over the two years I knew Julian, I constantly heard variations on that refrain. “Yeah, I know he seems like a dirty old man, but he’ll be your most loyal friend.” “Can be creepy, but he’d always be there for you.” “OK, he likes the ladies, but he’s always willing to help out.” And so on. It was true. I really didn’t like Butler at first, because despite the warnings, he came off as a dirty old man. I mean, that’s true too. He was a paunchy, hard-drinking, chain-smoking dirty old man who ogled every woman who walked past and could have a serious case of octopus arms. It’s entirely possible that he pushed many women way past their comfort zones. He was a wealthy white businessman and he sometimes pushed his advantages.
But he was also one of my most dependable friends. He could always be counted on to be helpful, generous, kind. I called him countless times for help with such varied things as organizing birthday parties, a can of petrol (to get back home, when there were fuel shortages in Ghanzi), business arrangements, advice on where to buy bricks, and a couch to crash on. He always came through. He did this for everyone he was friends with, and he did it with a smile on his face. He helped out simply for the reward of facilitating a good time, for making his friends happy. Very few people can honestly rejoice in their friends’ victories or happinesses; Julian did.
I drank far too much whiskey with Julian on long nights at the Kalahari Arms, whiling away the hours with him and Nelson and whoever else happened to be along for the ride that night… I also ate cheese-and-tomato toasties for lunch with him, chatting about work and idle gossip.
He was a Ghanzi character. People loved to hate him. He was of English origin, and didn’t quite fit in with the Afrikaans crowd in Ghanzi. Like pretty much every privileged white person in Africa, he could be racist, but he was one of the only white people I knew who would come to a party in D’Kar. He could make me very uncomfortable, but he could also be a perfect gentleman. He would use his wealth carelessly, throwing big braais with piles of meat and giant iceboxes full of beer; but at the end of the night, he would load up the back of his truck himself, collecting the last few cans and shutting the tailgate behind his enormous, slobbery dog Rex.
I had lunch with Julian on the second-to-last day I was in Botswana. “We’ll be seeing you around here again, I expect,” he said, grinning. He tossed down 50 pula to pay for our meal and scooped up his car keys. We said goodbye at the bus stop. I didn’t think it would be the last time.