Wendell Butler was a giant of Roanoke government, education, religious faith and medical care — a “gentle giant,” according to people who knew him.
“He was just a pillar of integrity, honesty and care,” said Wanda Walters, one of Butler’s daughters.
Butler, who died Thursday at the age of 96, was a former Roanoke vice mayor who served as the first Black chairman of the Roanoke School Board as well as on numerous other boards and commissions.
Plus, he was a well-known dentist who served predominantly northwest Roanoke families for decades while working in his office on 11th Street Northwest.
“He was everybody’s dentist,” Walters said.
Butler died less than three weeks after the death of his wife of 71 years, Susie Butler, who was also 96. Both Butlers died from complications of COVID-19, the family said.
Wendell Butler was a native Texan who studied at Howard University, where he met Susie, a standout athlete and dancer. In 1953, four years after they married, the Butlers moved with their young family to Roanoke, close to Susie’s hometown of Covington.
As legal racial segregation crumbled throughout Virginia, Butler became more involved with public service. In 1968, he was appointed to the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s board of commissioners. Two years later, the Roanoke City Council appointed him to the school board, where he served for 10 years and became the first African American chair in 1976.