J. Henry “Hank” Butta, who rose from the mail room to become president of the old Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. and was a close adviser to former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, died of heart disease Tuesday at his Davidsonville home. He was 90.
Associates called Mr. Butta a tireless promoter of Baltimore who worked to help win a National Football League franchise after the Colts left for Indianapolis in 1984.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Linwood Avenue, he was the son of John Butta and Margaret Cherigo.
His family lacked the tuition to send Mr. Butta to Loyola High School, but a parish priest suggested that he try out for an athletic scholarship. The Rev. Francis Childress had noticed that Mr. Butta excelled in soccer and believed he would be a natural kicker.
His kicking skill “was obvious for all to see,” wrote The Baltimore Sun’s John Steadman in 1988. “It was then that coach Ed Hargaden, on a late summer day in 1943, decided that the walk-on freshman, hoping for a scholarship, had a chance to help Loyola High School become a championship contender.”
Mr. Butta went on to be recognized by high school sportswriters in the 1940s. He played in the old Baltimore Stadium before a crowd of 4,000 in a 1945 game against Patterson Park. He was his school’s honoree at the 1947 McCormick Unsung Heroes Dinner.
While a Loyola student, he was working the stage crew at a student performance and, from behind a curtain, saw a young woman seated in the audience. He told his friends he was going to marry her. He and Anna Rose Janowiak were wed in 1949.
After graduating from Loyola at Blakefield, Mr. Butta was offered a scholarship to kick for Georgetown University. He declined it and instead took a job working for a road contractor to help support his mother.
He then walked into 327 St. Paul St., C&P's office, looking for a job.
“They said they weren't hiring anybody but World War II vets," Mr. Butta recalled in a 1991 Sun article. "But they took my application anyway. Then they called me the next day and said I could be a mail boy."
He made $18 a week.
“Among the upwardly mobile executive ranks of Bell Atlantic Corp., J. Henry "Hank" Butta remains an anomaly: He has commuted from the same house for 18 years, he vacations in Ocean City, and his idea of fun is to go crabbing in the Wye River using chicken necks for bait,” The Sun reported in 1991. “And when this man of decidedly simple tastes retires Sept. 1 from Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., the local phone company that is owned by Bell Atlantic, he will leave as one of the most influential executives in Maryland. ...”
He went from the mail room to working in manholes and was later a cable splicer, a lineman, a telephone installer, a central office repairman and a service representative before moving into management in the 1960s.
“He said he installed a phone in every house in Little Italy,” said his daughter, Susan Cavender of Largo, Fla.
Mr. Butta was named vice president of C&P of Maryland in 1979, the same year he struck up a friendship with Schaefer, then mayor of Baltimore. Mr. Butta became president of C&P July 1, 1988, and chief executive officer Jan. 1, 1990. He retired in 1991.
At the time of his retirement, Mr. Butta worked from a penthouse suite at 1 Pratt St.
“His expansive office, which has a panoramic view of the Inner Harbor, is filled with reminders of his journey up the executive ranks: There's a coffee cup that bears a picture of a hard-hat worker, a stack of congratulatory letters from linemen, installers and repairmen, and a C&P plaque that reads: ‘Quality Begins Here,’” said The Sun article.
The article also said civic and business leaders praised Mr. Butta as a success story and as a public citizen who used his post atop the state's telephone company to help raise money to help impoverished persons insulate their homes, and who fought to regain a National Football League franchise for Baltimore.
“For several years we had a hospitality suite at the annual National Football League owners meeting,” said attorney Herbert J. Belgrad. “Herb was a good man and a self-made man and his personal commitment and enthusiasm made him an instrumental part of our team and our efforts to get a franchise.”
Mr. Belgrad recalled Mr. Butta’s ability to develop friendships and good personal relationships with NFL team owners.
“He got to know them, their wives and their children,” Mr. Belgrad said. “Our suite was a popular gathering spot. We had crab meat and crab balls ready.”
Then-Mayor Schaefer named him to the chairmanship of the Corporate Stadium Task Force, which recommended building a new stadium complex at Camden Yards. Mr. Butta later directed Mr. Schaefer’s transition team after he was elected governor in 1986.
Mr. Butta was a leader of an effort called the Baltimore Blue Chip-In. The fundraiser assisted causes imperiled by government budget cuts. He also served as chair of the board of governors of the National Aquarium, and was a past director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. He also served on the boards of the University of Maryland Medical System and the Baltimore chapter of the American Red Cross.
He held a knighthood in the Roman Catholic Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. He and his wife enjoyed travel.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church, 1800 Seton Drive in Crofton.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, David Butta of Edgewater; two other daughters, Anne Butta of Davidsonville and Marybeth Lebherz of Frederick; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His wife of 44 years died in 1993.