BANGOR – Jeffrey Butland was not going to work this week.
The Cumberland man, who sometimes would travel three states in one day as New England regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, had something more important to do.
The married father of four children under the age of 20, whose own father had died prematurely of heart failure, had scheduled medical stress tests for his heart this week after not feeling well the last few days.
On Monday, Butland’s large contingent of family and friends, from politicians to small-business owners, were “trying to process” the 53-year-old’s death Sunday from a heart attack.
“We’re missing our friend,” said Mary McAleney, director of SBA’s Maine office, on Monday afternoon. “We haven’t processed it yet.”
The irony surrounding Butland’s death was inconsistent with the way he lived, according to his friends. Butland was a stoic, down-to-earth conservative Republican whose mood and temperament were even-keeled, and whose devotion to his family often was shared in conversations at business events.
“One outstanding trait he had was consistency,” said Leo Kieffer of Caribou, who served as state Senate majority leader when Butland was Senate president in 1995-96. “He was always the same. You never saw him mad about anything.”
“He was someone that whenever you’d see him he was so full of life,” said Jonathan Daniels, executive director of Eastern Maine Development Corp. in Bangor. “This is something you can never prepare for. He’s a person within the state that’s irreplaceable.”
In the mid-1990s, Butland was the Republican side of a political triangle that filled the state’s two legislative houses and the governor’s office. Butland, a legislator from 1988 to 1998, was Senate president for two years while Dan Gwadosky, a Democrat, was House speaker and Angus King, an independent, was governor.
The three men with three different party affiliations would spar over the state budget and bonds, and Butland once threatened a people’s veto of a $138 million borrowing plan.
“We may have had a difference of opinion from time to time, but we always kept it civil,” said Gwadosky, who now is secretary of state. “We liked one another. The institution was more important than any of us for both of us.”
King remembered meeting Butland for the first time outside of state government at the winter carnival in Quebec City, six weeks after King was sworn in as governor. The event turned into an icebreaker for both men.
“It helped us to get over some of the formalities of government, two guys trying to keep warm in the frozen air,” King said. “He was a good guy to work with. That doesn’t mean he was a pushover. I could always trust his word.”
Among the political contemporaries mourning Butland’s death are U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who once held the SBA’s New England regional administrator position and who shared the same birthday as Butland, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and her husband, former Gov. John R. McKernan; U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud and Gov. John Baldacci.
“We consider ourselves lucky to have been counted among his countless friends, and we will miss him terribly,” said Snowe and McKernan in a statement.
Butland graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Bates College in Lewiston in 1973. Between his junior and senior years, he served on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years, and eventually retired as a major from active and reserve duty in 1994.
After leaving the Legislature in 1998, Butland was an operational analyst for L.L. Bean in Freeport. Nearly four years later, Snowe nominated Butland for the SBA’s New England regional administrator position.
The position was “a dream job,” McAleney said, because, of the six New England states, Maine has the highest percentage per capita of microbusinesses and the highest number of self-employed individuals.
“He often said, ‘Maine is not a small state. It’s a big family,'” McAleney recalled.
Mark Awalt, vice president of JSI Store Fixtures in Milo, said that until this year, he knew of Butland only as a politician. Then he got to meet him.
In May, Butland presented JSI Store Fixtures with the Maine Small Business of the Year award at Maine SBA’s annual dinner in Bangor. Awalt thanked the SBA in a speech.
“Jeff came up to me and said that my speech was one of the best that he had heard because it came from the heart,” Awalt said. “That actually meant a lot to me, that someone at Jeff’s level would make that kind of comment to me. If you could go out and develop the personality of a person in his position, you wouldn’t change anything about him.”
Butland is survived by his wife, Nancy, and their four children, Jennifer, who graduated from high school last spring; Meghan, who will be a high school senior this fall; Jeffrey, who will be a sophomore; and Hannah, who will start first grade.
Funeral services are pending.