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Category 10: Short-form, Average Joe
Every March 17, Mark Butler would suit up like some Irish gladiator, donning protective overalls to become one of the magicians who dyed the Chicago River green for St. Patrick's Day.
Mr. Butler, who started doing the world-famous dye job 25 years ago, died at his parents' home in Darien last month from esophageal cancer. He was 45.
"He loved coloring the river," said Mr. Butler's sister Patricia Hansa, who remembers how he would wave to the cheering crowds along the riverbanks. "He was just so proud he'd always make people happy."
One time, though, there was only quiet from the bystanders when Mr. Butler worked his river-dyeing wizardry. That was in 1998, when the Disney studios had flown Mr. Butler and his father, Michael Butler, to Dublin, Ireland, to dye the River Liffey green for St. Patrick's Day to promote "Flubber," a movie about bright-green slime with a mind of its own.
But the dye they used is orange when it first hits the water, before turning it green. And orange is a Protestant color in overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland, where "The Wearing of the Green" is a symbol of pride and once was an act of defiance against English colonialism.
When the "Dubs" watched the Liffey turning orange, they were struck dumb, Michael Butler recalled.
"There's a picture, on the boat, of Mark and myself," he said. "We look worried."
Luckily, the churning of the water by two passing jet-skiers quickly got rid of the orange. "It started to turn green, and they started yelling, 'Peace,' " Michael Butler said.
In Chicago, the dyeing of the river has long been performed by a few volunteers from the Butler and Rowan families, the only people who really know the secret vegetable-dye recipe that makes the waterway temporarily resemble Green River pop, said Michael Butler. The families have ties to the parade sponsor, the Plumbers Union, which covers the cost.
Mark Butler was born in Evergreen Park and educated at St. Denis grade school on the South Side and Marist High School.
For years, he managed the Scottsdale car wash at 79th and Cicero and the Galleria car wash in Brookfield, Wis., both owned by his father. He liked to make work seem like fun with his good-natured jokes, like slipping 20 air-fresheners under an employee's car seat.
He also gave many troubled youths a chance when he offered them jobs, relatives said. Craig Williams was a self-described "knot-headed kid" when Mr. Butler hired him and told him to show up and be on time.
"He gave me a job at the car wash and gave me my work ethic," Williams said. "He and his family taught me to go to work every day."
Most recently, Mr. Butler managed Crestwood's off-track betting parlor.
He was the only boy in a family of five sisters, or, as he sometimes referred to them, his "blisters." And woe unto anyone who failed to act like a gentleman around them.
"If a guy looked at me funny, it didn't matter if he was two feet taller" than Mark, said his sister Erin Horath. "Size didn't matter -- 'That's my sister.' ''
He was walking Reilly, his beloved Irish terrier, when he met Kristy Bosco, who became his fiance. She was by his side until the end.
"He asked her to marry him the day before we brought him home from the hospice," said Patricia Hansa. "He bought her a blue sapphire and diamond ring -- the blue to remind her of his eyes, and a diamond for eternal love."
Mr. Butler was the fun uncle who taught his nieces and nephews to fish. He enjoyed NASCAR racing, the White Sox and going to Knoxville with his brother-in-law Jimmy Horath to see University of Tennessee football games.
"He would always get his friends, whether they were the jocks, the nerds, the intelligent ones, and get everybody together to play a football game," said Jimmy Horath. "And you'd think, how can he get all these people together who don't talk to each other?"
Last spring, when his mother, Marlene, discovered an unexpected pension from the time she worked at Nabisco, she took Mark and the rest of the family on vacation to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, to enjoy the time they had left together. "He had a wheelchair, and we did wheelies with it," she said.
A benefit to help pay Mr. Butler's medical bills is set from 3 to 9 p.m. Saturday at Hawthorne Race Course. Information is available at www.bets4butts.com.
He is also survived by his sisters Jennifer Kearns, Kathleen Unes and Michelle Mingey, and many nieces and nephews. His sister Dawn died in infancy.