Howard E. Butt Jr., one-time heir apparent to run the 380-store H‑E‑B grocery chain before turning lay evangelist during the “youth revival movement” that spread from Baylor University to campuses across the country in the 1940s and 1950s, has died.
Butt, the oldest son of the grocery chain’s namesake founder Howard E. Butt Sr., died Sept. 22 at his home in San Antonio, Texas, due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 89.
Butt grew up in the family business, working his way up to vice president, until conflict between that work and his calling as a lay evangelist that began when he started preaching as a student at Baylor University in 1946 prompted him to step away from day-to-day operation of the grocery chain in the late 1960s.
His younger brother, Charles Butt, took over as chairman and CEO of H-E-B. In 1982 Howard accepted the presidency of the H. E. Butt Foundation, one of the earliest private foundations founded in Texas in 1933. He expanded the foundation by establishing the Laity Lodge Retreat Center in the Texas Hill Country west of San Antonio, birthplace of the “small group” model introduced in Keith Miller’s first book, The Taste of New Wine, written largely at Laity Lodge.
Butt wrote numerous books on faith and leadership and was known nationally for his radio program, “The High Calling of our Daily Work,” 60-second spots aired on 3,000 radio stations in all 50 states.
Howard E. Butt Jr., is survived by his wife, Barbara Dan, and two siblings, three children, eight grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Remembrances may be sent to the Friends of The H.E. Butt Family Foundation, P. O. Box 290670, Kerrville, Texas 78029-0670. A memorial service celebrating his life and witness will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17, at Trinity Baptist Church, 319 E. Mulberry Ave., San Antonio, Texas 78212.
H‑E‑B is one of the largest food retailers in the United States, with annual sales of more than $23 billion. The Charles Butt family was recently ranked the nation’s 23rd wealthiest family in the U.S. by Forbes magazine with a fortune estimated at $11 billion.