Athens, Ga. – Long before computers and spreadsheets, Tyus Butler was a human database of information about graduates of the University of Georgia.
If you wanted to know when someone graduated, where the person lived, his or her profession and likely the names of the person’s spouse and children, Butler probably could tell you. If the person had relatives who graduated from UGA, Butler probably knew their names too.
Butler, who died April 28 at age 94, was UGA’s director of alumni relations from 1956 until his retirement in 1983. A UGA graduate himself (bachelor’s degree in journalism, 1935), he is credited with modernizing what was then known as the UGA Alumni Society by organizing records, creating a statewide alumni network, starting numerous programs for alumni and becoming the primary link for thousands of graduates with their alma mater.
Known for his ability to remember names, dates, faces and facts, Butler worked at UGA for 44 years, first as a journalism teacher, then for 27 years as alumni director. In a time when the university’s alumni body was smaller and more closely knit, he excelled at personal contact, keeping tabs on graduates through phone calls, visits, correspondence (often personally responding to as many as 100 letters a day) and the daily perusal of local newspapers.
His contact list included elected state officials, including several governors and former governors, and business and civic leaders throughout the state. To many alumni, he was the public face of UGA, one of its best-known and most popular officials.
After earning his journalism degree, Butler worked for The Atlanta Journal and newspapers in Calhoun and Cedartown, then earned a master’s degree in journalism and history at Louisiana State University. In 1939, he returned to UGA as a faculty member in the Grady College of Journalism.
He became alumni director on a part-time basis in 1956 but continued teaching journalism until 1964 when running the Alumni Society became his full-time job. During his tenure, the Society organized more than 60 alumni chapters around the state and started alumni programs in many of the university’s schools and colleges. He helped create a number of popular programs including the annual Alumni Weekend, the Alumni Seminar, the Student Alumni Association, an alumni tour program and a series of mini-seminars.
He also moved the Society’s office into a former football field house on South Campus that was named the Alumni House, hired the first professional staff and quadrupled Society membership.
While on the journalism faculty, Butler taught journalism history and press law and helped the late journalism dean, John Drewry, establish the prestigious Peabody Broadcasting Awards.
Butler is survived by his wife of 62 years, Eugenia, and three sons and their families. His funeral will be held May 2 with burial in Oconee Hill Cemetery. Remembrances for Butler can be made to the University of Georgia Foundation for the Marion Tyus Butler Scholarship or to St. Stephen’s Anglican Church.