Paso’s first Teacher of the Year, Pat Butler, dies

Pat Butler, an icon of the Paso Robles education system, died Friday in Templeton after a period of failing health. She was 88.

Known as a warm, giving and musically gifted dynamo who dedicated her life to community and teaching, Butler was honored as the city’s first Paso Robles Teacher of the Year in 1966, as Roblan of the Year in 1985 and by having an elementary school named after her in 1990.

Born Luna Belle Beachum on May 22, 1921, in Dallas, Texas, Butler graduated from Adamson High School in Dallas. Her next two years were spent at North Texas University, where, in 1942, she graduated with a degree in music as well as high school and elementary teaching credentials. That summer, she sang each week with a band in radio station WTAA’s studio auditorium in Dallas on a program called “Saturday Leave,” which entertained servicemen on weekend leave.

It was around this time that she changed her name from Luna Belle to Pat.

In the fall of 1942, Butler took her first teaching assignment at a junior high in Ballinger, Texas, where she met her future husband, Capt. Robert O. Butler, at rehearsals for a USO show. The couple married in 1943 and moved to Paso Robles in 1952 to take teaching positions.

They raised two sons, Bob, who went on to become a research engineer, and Jim, an accountant and building contractor.

She went on to involve herself in scores of local groups and organizations. (See a list of her accomplishments in the obituary on page B2.)

LaDonna Nash moved to Paso Robles in 1977 and taught kindergarten in the classroom next to Butler’s. She remembers her as “one of these teachers who had a real flair. She would dress up like a French artist and teach cursive writing. The kids loved it.

“On Pioneer Day, she dressed up as Granny, and the kids would cook hushpuppies; she was a Texas girl after all,” says Nash.

Kathy Jenkins, a Butler third-grade protégé who is now the secretary for the Paso Robles High School Learning Academy, says, “Pat Butler was my all-time favorite teacher. Every morning, we started the day with her playing the piano and singing to us.”

After almost 37 years of leaving indelible marks on the lives of thousands of young Paso Roblans, Butler retired from teaching in 1982, but that didn’t mean she sat in a rocker. She traveled to competitions with the Sweet Adelines, took parts with the Pioneer Players and, according to Nash, became a member of The Breakfast Gang, a group of “old timer” teachers who meet every third Tuesday of each month to dine while chewing on issues.

Barbara Partridge, former Paso Robles Library and Recreation Services director, recalls her library docent colleague and friend: “She was the sweetest, most kind person. She was just one in a million.”

A celebration of her life is set for Thursday at 2 p.m. at the Plymouth Congregation Church, 1301 Oak St., Paso Robles.