Leonard P. Butler, known as The Man Who Moved the Lighthouse, died peacefully at home in Gay Head/Aquinnah on July 5 in the house he planned and built. He was surrounded by his adoring family. He was 74.

He was born in Bowling Green, Ky. and then moved with his parents to Newark, N.J. His family grew to five boys and one girl. They relocated to Caldwell and Essex Fells, N.J. and he attended Essex Catholic High School.

He conducted a stint in the North Sea with the U.S. Merchant Marine, which was great practice for future February ferry runs between the Vineyard and Woods Hole.

He attended Rutgers University, where he minored in geoscience — a brilliant preparation for the future Gay Head Lighthouse move — and received a bachelor of arts degree in psychology, which was maybe even more brilliant prep for the lighthouse project. A lifelong Tau Kappa Epsilon, he never shared its secret handshake.

Len married Mallory Mosser in 1969 in New Jersey. They moved to Martha’s Vineyard with their one-year-old daughter Jeffie after visiting a friend on the Island during a February ice storm. They figured if they loved the Vineyard then, they’d love it forever. They did and still do.

He built a life for his growing family, which now included son Maxwell and daughter Nina. He became a brilliant and applauded construction supervisor, working with the also-beloved John G. Early and his crew. They built lasting, stunning projects for many grateful clients including Spike Lee’s first home and the Obamas’ current home. 

Len played in the early days of the men’s softball league in Oak Bluffs where, in spite of the well-known, sort-of remembered sideline shenanigans, there were gifted ballplayers and athletes. It was a triumph and a miracle when the mighty Ravings won the team championship in 1978.

He was also a lifelong charter member and vice commodore of the world-renowned Whippoorwill Yacht and Rocket Club under the leadership of Commodore Gordon M. Otis. He held treasured memories of those wild, irreplaceable, indescribable years.

Len was responsible for building the outdoor deck at the Aquinnah library many years ago, maybe getting his first taste of the lifetime achievement that was to come: the relocation of the Red Queen, the Gay Head Lighthouse. During his early years in Gay Head, while living at the original Vanderhoop homestead, he watched her blink his family to sleep at night, a constant, vigilant, comforting presence.

The thought of losing that watchful eye for future generations was the spark that led him to that next necessary project. He knew he had the ability needed to leave his mark on a town that had loved and held his family for 50 years. He could and did return that miracle. According to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, it was “the most ambitious historic preservation project ever undertaken on the Vineyard.”

Len was awarded the Martha's Vineyard Medal by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in 2016. The adventure is chronicled in the PBS/NOVA documentary Operation Lighthouse Rescue.

He will always be remembered for his smile, kindness, strength of character and loving heart, but mostly he will be remembered for saving the light that blinks us all to sleep at night still. 

Len was predeceased by his parents, Leonard T. and Marilyn T. Butler, and his younger brother, John Edward and his wife Kari of Albuquerque, N.M. He is survived by his brothers Christopher of Sag Harbor, N.Y., Richard and his wife Amy of Mequon, Wis., Robert and his wife Tracey of Verona, N.J., his sister Marianne of Brooklyn, N.Y., and many nieces and nephews.

He is also survived by his beloved wife of 54 years, Mallory Butler. He was most proud of being an exceptional father to his children and was their biggest fan, supporter and cheerleader. He never missed a basketball game, ballet performance, piano recital, track meet, Little League or Tee-ball game, Tabernacle performance, rock show, or a Minnesingers performance.

He is survived by his children, Jeffie Butler and her husband Kevin Sheehan of Aspen, Colo., Maxwell Gordon Butler of Los Angeles, Calif. and Nina Pascal Butler of Boston.

He was known as Poppi to his grandchildren Maeve Quillin and Orrin Thomas Sheehan of Aspen, Colo. As time went by, he became known as Poppi to many grown-ups as well.

Memorial contributions may be made to preserve the Gay Head Lighthouse. Checks with “in memory of Len Butler” written on the memo line can be written to the Town of Aquinnah and mailed to Town of Aquinnah, attn: Lighthouse Keeper, 955 State Road, Aquinnah, MA 02535.

A celebration of life will be held on Sept. 10 at 4 p.m. at the Gay Head Lighthouse. Parking will be available and a reception will follow. 

For online condolences and more information, visit chapmanfuneral.com.