“If you don’t like our newspaper … or you don’t like our service, write to me and I’ll refund your FULL subscription price … no questions asked,” read a Tampa Tribune ad from Oct. 8, 1978.
It ended with a neat and legible signature: Jack Butcher, circulation director.
Years later, as publisher and general manager of the Tribune, Butcher sat in his office one day when a powerful local figure stopped by. That visitor wanted a recent story about him retracted. Butcher had one question.
“He said ‘well … is it true?’” remembered Butcher’s daughter, Donna DeVille.
“Well that’s not the point,” the visitor replied.
“It is the point,” the publisher countered.
For Butcher, serving the public through the newspaper was always the point, whether it was delivering it as a 15-year-old paperboy in Lakeland, guiding it as circulation director or shaping it for a digital future as publisher. Butcher spent more than 50 years at the Tribune, and then continued working for Tampa in other roles, including as interim chief financial officer of The Florida Aquarium.
He died July 20 at 90 of natural causes.
‘He loved the newspaper’
“Jack Butcher’s office desk is polished and bare,” read a 1997 Tribune profile ahead of Butcher’s retirement. “No stacks of paper, no scribbled calendar, no fingerprints. He cautiously slides a coaster across the glass and rests his coffee mug … Reserved and polite, Butcher shifts uncomfortably in the fat leather chair in an office that cushioned more flamboyant newspaper executives before him. He dislikes being the focus of attention.”
Butcher’s career in newspapers started when he was 9 years old, delivering the Elkins (West Virginia) Intermountain to soldiers who were stationed nearby during World War II. When Butcher’s family moved to Florida, he continued the job with The Tampa Tribune.
By the mid-1980s, Butcher was circulation director and president of the International Circulation Managers Association.
DeVille remembers sitting cross-legged in his home office chair as her father practiced the speeches he’d deliver in that role. In 1994, he became the Tribune’s ninth publisher. His work included getting the Tribune online. Three years later, at 63, he was ready to retire.
“The business world has changed dramatically, with everything geared for the bottom line and ‘lean and mean,’ ” Butcher told the Tribune in 1997, seeing then the direction of so many local newspapers. In 2016, the Tampa Bay Times bought and closed the Tribune. “If I was still in my 40s, I would adapt to the change.”
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After retirement, Butcher kept his attention on his family and community. He served as interim CFO at The Florida Aquarium, and was on the board of directors for Advent Hospitals, Tampa Bay Partnership and other organizations. And he never missed an event for his daughters, Pam, Vicki, Debbie, Donna and Lisa, or his grandchildren.
Butcher’s civic engagement was part of who he was, and he never saw himself as being above others, said former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. Butcher and his wife, Larilyn, delivered Meals on Wheels in his later years.
“That’s the kind of person and the kind of gesture that built this country,” Greco said.
Former News Channel 8′s Gayle Guyardo knew Butcher through their careers, and said for them both, the news was much more than just a job.
“It’s something that just kind of pumps in your blood until it’s time to retire,” she said. “He stood for that through his entire career.”
In his retirement profile Butcher was celebrated as a positive, supportive, innovative leader who prized integrity.
“He basically just wanted to tell the truth,” DeVille said. “He loved the newspaper.”
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.