Staff, pupils and parents at St Catherine’s primary school joined together to make a mosaic as part of Family Learning Week in October 2005.
However the exercise had much more significance; it was part of the plan to create a ‘Quiet Garden’ in one of the school courtyards to honour Joe Butler, a much-loved school governor and local figure who died in January 2005.
Like many other people, Joe wasn’t a native of Pitsmoor but had made it his home for many years. He was born in County Kilkenny in Ireland in 1940 and moved to Sheffield in search of work when he was 17. At first he lodged in Shiregreen but once he got married to Eileen (also Irish: they met dancing at the City Hall), they bought a house on Rutland Road, raising a family of three boys and playing an active role in the local community. He worked first in a steel mill and then as a bus driver, and despite 48 years in Sheffield he still had a soft Irish accent.
“What made him so special?” was the question I put to his nieces, Geraldine and Margaret, when I met them at St Catherine’s to find out about plans for the garden. “He was a really caring, inspirational person!” said Margaret, “But down to earth and straightforward too. He was very approachable – all the kids at St Catherine’s knew him and he would always find time to listen. Everyone called him Uncle Joe. For sixteen years he was a governor at the school and deeply committed to looking after everyone there.”
“He was very active in the church too,” added Geraldine. “His faith was very important to him and over the years he organised and fundraised for hundreds of disabled people to travel to Lourdes. And he would come to church every week just to get to know people and make them feel at home. But at the same time he loved a party and his family gatherings were legendary: even after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour, he held a party at home. All the relatives from Ireland came over for the occasion and Joe joined in the fun from his bed. He accepted death gracefully, saying he had had a good life, having seen his children grow up and give him grandchildren.”
Aside from his faith and his family, the other great love of his life was gardening. So it seemed a fitting way to celebrate his life by building the garden at St Catherine’s school, a place he had given so much of his time. “After he died, we decided to raise some money for Joe’s garden,” Geraldine told me. “We’ve made the mosaic to honour him. We’ll plant some new flowers and we’ll also have a small fountain in the courtyard – and maybe even a stained glass door into the courtyard, if we have enough money. It’s going to be a place where anyone, pupil, parent or staff can come for a quiet moment of reflection.”
A ceremony to celebrate Joe’s life will be held in the school on 19th January 2006.
“We’ll have a grand opening of the garden with Eileen turning on the water fountain!” said Margaret.
Anyone wanting to attend please contact the school.
Thanks to Margaret Lonsdale and Geraldine Flynn for talking to me about their uncle, Joe Butler – a very special person.
by Nikky Wilson