Montgomery, Ala. — BASS is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Don Butler on Tuesday, December 7, at his Grand Lake, Okla., home following a long bout with cancer. Butler was the first member of BASS, having personally handed his membership fee to BASS founder Ray Scott in 1968, and one of the sports earliest stars.
"We've lost a great man," said Scott, a close friend of Butler's since the earliest days of BASS. "Back when BASS was just an idea — before we had a magazine or anything — Don Butler believed in it. I told him what I was going to do with the organization, and he asked how much a membership would be. I told him it would be $10, and then he asked how much for a life membership. I had no idea how much to charge for that, so I told him $100. He reached into his wallet and gave me the money. He was BASS's first member and first life member.
"His help didn't end there, either," Scott added. "I remember a conversation I had with Don in the late 1960s when I was trying to grow BASS. Things were tough, and I was trying to generate memberships through a direct mailer, but I had no money for postage. I told him about that problem, and we went on to talk about other things. The next day we got a call from Western Union saying that they had some money for us. I assumed it was a tournament entry fee. When I stopped by to pick it up, I found that Don had sent us $10,000 for the postage and didn't even leave his name on the wire.
"That's the kind of man he was. He was like another John Wayne."
Butler was a staple at early BASS events, qualifying for the first three CITGO Bassmaster Classics and winning the second Classic in 1972 on Percy Priest Reservoir in Tenn. He also won the 1973 Arkansas Invitational on Beaver Lake. He last attended a BASS event in April of this year when he spoke to competitors at the 2004 CITGO BASS Federation Championship.
Like many of the early legends of the sport, Butler was not just an outstanding angler; he was also an astute businessman. In the 1960s, he founded Okiebug, now one of the largest tackle dealers in the United States.
Memorial services are tentatively set for 11:00 a.m. CST Friday, Dec. 10, at the South Grand Lake Christian Church in Langley, Oklahoma. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the church at P.O. Box 387, Langley, OK 74350.