Butler Derrick, a longtime Democratic congressman known for both kindness and effectiveness in representing his western South Carolina 3rd District, died Monday of cancer. He was 77.
According to a spokesman, he died in Easley, surrounded by family. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
An Edgefield lawyer and state legislator, Derrick served for 20 years in the U.S. House before deciding not to seek re-election in 1994.
“He loved this state and devoted his life to making it a better place for its citizens,” said U.S. Rep.
James Clyburn. “His leadership and dedication to South Carolina will surely be missed.”
“Butler was a good man,” said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who won his 3rd District seat in 1994. “I will always be grateful for the assistance he provided to me in my transition to the U.S. House of Representatives. Closer to home, he was known for a very caring and
effective constituent service operation which put the needs of his constituents first.”
Derrick represented the 3rd District from 1974 to 1994 deciding not seek re-election in what became a big year for Republican gains.
He left office as vice chairman of the Rules Committee, considered one of the three most powerful congressional committees. It’s the committee that decides which bills make it to the House floor and how the debate will be shaped.
He also was a chief deputy whip, a top leadership position in the House.
“I believe you’re elected for two reasons, to represent the people who elect you and in turn, they expect you to use your best judgment to do your best on their behalf,’’ he said in a 1990s Augusta Chronicle interview. “I believe I have been able to represent my district and maintain that trust for 20 years.”
As a Southern Democrat, Derrick was sometimes controversial because of his strong support of gun-control legislation and abortion rights. He also drew
criticism when he opposed construction of the Richard B. Russell Dam, a fight he lost.
At the end of his time in office, he said, his biggest highlights were ones that rarely make the news: Fixing problems with Social Security checks and getting a helicopter to transport a sick American child in Cuba to a stateside hospital in time to save his life.
He will be remembered for his strong support of Aiken County’s Savannah River Site, the “Made in America ” emblem on U.S. clothing and the Low-Level Waste Bill of 1980 that finally got the federal government to regulate radioactive trash.
According to the Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership, Derrick was born in Springfield, Mass., but his parents, native South Carolinians, returned to Florence, where he grew up and graduated from public schools.
He held a degree from the University of South Carolina and a bachelor of law from the Lumpkin Law School at the University of Georgia. He was elected to the South Carolina Legislature in 1968.
After leaving the U.S. House, he practiced with a regional and an international law firm and was a partner in the firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, having opened its Washington office, according to the Stennis Web site.
Derrick also served on the secretary of energy’s Advisory Board; the South Carolina Nuclear Waste Program’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel as chairman; the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs; the National Wildlife Caucus; Common Cause Presidents Council; and the Institute for Representative Government.