Saturday was a glorious day for golf in Sun Valley.
Playing golf is probably what the 475 people gathered at Trail Creek Cabin probably wished they were doing, instead of paying their respects at a sun-baked memorial service for a Sun Valley Resort legend—Guy Edwin "Bill" Butterfield.
Butterfield would have agreed with that sentiment. He liked funerals about as much as shanked golf shots. Funerals meant there was one fewer person in the world. And Butterfield was a people person, friendly to everyone and an outstanding ambassador for Sun Valley.
Sun Valley resident Butterfield died Wednesday, Aug. 17, at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center, south of Ketchum. He finished his tour of life at age 79, a pretty decent score for a round of golf.
Butterfield served 38 years as a highly respected ski instructor and assistant director for the Sun Valley Ski School. He was Sun Valley Golf Course's head pro for 35 years.
Sun Valley Co. owner Earl Holding attended Saturday's memorial service and didn't speak, but many came to the podium to sing Butterfield's praises for his long career of catering to thousands of guests and maintaining excellence in ski and golf instruction.
"Bill is what Sun Valley is all about—the fairest, most fantastic man I've ever met, a man with so much dignity, truly a gentleman," said former Sun Valley Ski School Director Rainer Kolb. "He was the standard we all wished we'd come to."
Sun Valley Ski School Director Hans Muehlegger announced that the 2005 Sun Valley Torchlight Parade on Christmas Eve will be dedicated to Butterfield—a man whose life was like a big rainbow with lots of color in it, he explained.
"Bill had a special gift," Muehlegger added. "We all knew Bill for his kindness, fairness and professional approach to the job. He was an excellent skier and highly respected by guests, fellow workers and the whole community. He was one of the best instructors in my whole life, and I was proud to be on his team."
Butterfield was a man noted for his friendliness, attention to detail and pleasant personality in a pair of Sun Valley Co. jobs calling for a strong public relations sense.
His guiding philosophy was, "Guest services is the most important element in serving the skiing public," according to Butterfield's biography when he was honored at the Ski Affair in Salt Lake City back in 2003.
While he was able to charm, teach and entertain generations of guests, Butterfield kept a close connection with the working class at the resort. Approachable to all, he maintained a common touch that endeared him to employees throughout the hierarchy.
Jim Hitson, longtime ski instructor, said, "We did our best for Bill because we knew we were working for the best."
Added current Sun Valley head golf pro Doyle Corbett about his former boss, "Bill would come by at the end of a day and say, 'It looks like you guys have it under control, I'm going to pull the pin for the day.'"
Butterfield always had a twinkle in his eye. Pierre Saviers, who grew up with Bill's sons in Ketchum, recalled seeing Butterfield at the Sun Valley Post Office recently. He asked conversationally, "Bill, are you staying out of trouble?" Butterfield replied, "Yes, but the day is young yet."
Butterfield spent his boyhood in Manchester, Vt., a small town near the southern Green Mountains and a string of ski areas. He played on a championship high school golf team, and earned money in the summer caddying on local golf courses.
He skied as a youngster and taught skiing at Snow Valley and Big Bromley in Vermont. He was certified as an instructor with the Eastern Ski Instructors Association at age 16—becoming the youngest certified ski teacher in the East. His early mentors were Fred Iselin and Woody Meyer at Snow Valley.
On the golf course, Butterfield caddied once for the legendary Sam Snead. "He was my idol," said Butterfield. Displayed at Saturday's memorial service was a photograph of Butterfield with Ben Hogan.
The day of his high school graduation, Butterfield enlisted and ended up logging four years in the U.S. Navy. He spent a lot of his spare time playing golf while stationed at Pensacola, Fla. Butterfield became a five-handicap golfer and competed on the professional fall tour, once making the cut for the Western Open.
Butterfield came to Sun Valley Resort in 1948 at the request of then-ski school director Otto Lang.
His 38 years as a ski instructor gave him pupils from the early Hollywood glitterati to legendary ski racers. Traveling to snow during Idaho summers, Butterfield was also director of New Zealand's Coronet Peak Ski School in the early 1950s.
Assistant Ski School Director Butterfield was indeed the man behind the scenes in the growth of the Sun Valley Ski School during the Sigi Engl and Sepp Froehlich era of the 1950s through the 1970s.
"Without Bill, Sigi and Sepp, the ski school wouldn't be what it is today," said Kolb at Butterfield's 1987 retirement party.
The Torchlight Parade was really Butterfield's Christmas celebration, and he had the honor of leading the parade of ski instructors from 1976 until 1990. But skiing was only one way that Butterfield served as an ambassador of guest relations.
In 1954, Butterfield went to work on the Sun Valley Golf Course, shooting golf in the morning and doing the grass watering duties and shop attendant chores in the afternoon. Two years later, in 1956, he became Sun Valley's golf pro. He remained the pro through 1991.
He bridged the era from the days when Sun Valley had only "a sporty nine holes," as he called it, to its present 18-hole championship layout. Sun Valley expanded to 18 holes in 1962 and Butterfield was involved in that, as well as the Robert Trent Jones renovation from 1977 to 1979.
After his retirement from the golfing job in 1991, Butterfield made his rounds both on and off the golf course and continued to cultivate friendships. He regularly visited two of Ketchum's better-known watering holes, Michel's Christiania and the Casino. The bars honored Butterfield after his death by placing flowers at his usual seat.
Corbett said, "Bill would play nine holes in the morning after he retired. His schedule was famous in town. I always knew where to find him."
At his 1987 retirement party from the ski school, a humbled Butterfield listened to all the speeches and accolades and then made his comments brief, about two minutes in length.
He said, "There are no words to express my feelings about how overwhelmed I am that so many of you have come so far and made it a great evening for me. I've had some great memories and loved every bit of it, but it's been the friendship and working with everyone that I will remember the most. Thank you."
And he played his silver spoons for the audience, making music on his thigh, like he was known to do for years at Sun Valley to entertain his friends and, of course, the guests. "Bill would make more noise with those spoons than drummers make beating the drums," Muehlegger said.
Corbett, at the end of the memorial service, organized a 12-swing salute to Butterfield. Twelve golfers picked up clubs and simultaneously smacked golf balls in the direction of Baldy. The balls ended up deep in the willows, never to be retrieved.
The golfers, part of the old guard and new guard who saluted Butterfield Saturday, included Tommy Sanderson, Karen Shorts, Adi Erber, Johnny Iceland Gudmundsson, Kenny Zimmerman, Charlie Wister, Woody Woodward, Tim Appleton, Will Butterfield and Joe Yarborough.
One of the 12-swing golfers was Bill's son, Guy Butterfield. Friendly like his father, but as peripatetic in his travels as Bill was firmly established in the resort community, Air Force veteran Guy Butterfield was most recently in Iraq in April working as supply support for Defense contractors. He hopes to return to Afghanistan. And he loved his father.
"He was a great teacher," Guy said.
Bill is survived by his wife of 31 years, Missy Butterfield, as well as daughters Heidi Butterfield and Nina Noel, and sons Will Butterfield, Guy Butterfield and John Peck.
An obituary appears on Page A26 of this week's printed edition of the Idaho Mountain Express.