Graham: a vanguard at the front

‘We used to call him Jeeves’, said the man next to me at Graham Butler’s funeral, a former work colleague of Graham’s.  I had to think for a second as I had never called him Jeeves, then it clicked.  Actually it was quite a good name for him because he was thoughtful, perceptive, kind and found a way of solving problems.

Graham died last November at the age of only 69.  I knew him as a volunteer for the Ramblers and the Vanguards Rambling Club.  I attended his funeral in Croydon in December; I am grateful to his daughter Catherine, Angela Bellwood, Brian Reader, Colin Saunders and Alan Smith, all of whom spoke there, for information about him.

butler mugshot

Graham Butler

Graham was a member of the Ramblers’ Southern Area transport committee and then, in 1984 when the area split into counties each with a piece of London, he became involved in the new Surrey Area.  He was soon elected area secretary, a role which he retained until his last few years (despite changes to the Area constitution in 2009 which placed a five-year limit on continuous service by any officer).  No one volunteered so Graham got round this by becoming ‘acting’ Area secretary.

Following the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, Graham became Surrey’s access officer and led the checking of the access maps.

offa's dyke, vanguards 1977

The Vanguards on Offa’s Dyke in 1977. Graham is on the right

He was secretary of the Ramblers’ Greater London Forum from 2007 to 2017, taking a close interest in routes such as the Capital Ring and London Loop.  He was route manager for the loop until 2008.  He represented the Ramblers on the Thames Path Partnership.  He was also part of the successful Love London, Walk London campaign ahead of the last mayoral elections, thanks to which London now has a walking and cycling commissioner.

In 2016 he helped to organise the Thames Path relay, passing a baton along the route, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the national trail.


Graham speaking to camera at the source of the Thames in 2016


The Thames Path relay banner










Graham represented walking on Surrey County Council’s countryside access forum from its inception in 2001 until very recently.  He was elected chair in 2007.  He enjoyed doing physical work on paths, and was a founder member of the Ramblers’ Commando Footpath Clearance Group which, in liaison with Ramblers’ footpath secretaries, tackled and cleared overgrown and blocked paths around London.

The Vanguards Rambling Club is indebted to Graham.  He joined in 1969, four years after it was founded.  He often led walks and for 44 years was the club’s treasurer and for some time produced a monthly newsletter.  In the late 1970s Graham took the role of researching and coordinating the proposed 66-mile Vanguard Way from Croydon to Seaford, negotiating with the highway authorities for permission to erect waymarks.  Once created it needed maintenance.  Graham performed this role for nearly 40 years.

web sign

On every anniversary of the route Graham would be there with the frayed red ribbon, which had been retied many times, and a celebratory bottle of Drambuie (a Vanguards’ tradition because Drambuie was enjoyed in the guards’ van from which the group got its name in 1965).


Graham, centre in red jacket, supplied the Drambuie for the 35th anniversary of the Vanguard Way at Gill’s Lap in Ashdown Forest, 3 May 2016

If he ever became tetchy he would be at pains to patch it up, and he was always ready to help anyone in trouble, whether it was to reunite a lost dog with its owner, give directions to a lost rail-replacement driver, or steer the Vanguards on a narrow boat in the pouring rain while the others sheltered inside.

Tall, with long, strong legs, Graham could outwalk most of the Vanguards.  He completed many Long Distance Walkers’ Association marathons, including the 100 milers.  Between 1972 and 2012 he recorded 37 successful completions of the Ridgeway national trail—40 miles to be done in a day—his record being 7 hours 55 minutes.

seaford sep 15 small

At Seaford, on the 50th anniversary of the Vanguards, 25 September 2015, Graham is in front

He had two daughters, Catherine and Sarah.  At the funeral Catherine told us some things few of us knew about Graham.  He was a terrible cook.  He loved The Sound of Music and Carry On films.  He did not learn to drive until he was to marry Janet and he wanted to be the one to drive them away on their honeymoon.  But once he got the hang of it he had a tendency to drive too fast and was a terrible passenger.  And he never threw anything away.

He was born in Lambeth, to Charles and Marjorie Butler and spent his childhood in Coulsdon.  When he finished school he went on a trip to North Africa, then his mother told him to get a job.  So he did, spending most of his working life at Mobil, ExxonMobil and BP.  He worked to live not lived to work, and he enjoyed travel.  It is amazing how he managed to fit in all his work on paths and access while in full-time employment.  He was energetic and dedicated to the causes he cared about—and we are fortunate that he cared so deeply for the Ramblers and the Vanguards.

He bore his last few years of illness with immense courage.  As was so typical of him he just kept going.  It will be hard to fill the gap he leaves behind.

seaford beach july 2015 small

On Seaford beach, July 2015

Graham Butler, 3 March 1949 – 23 November 2018

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Access, campaigns, Obituary, Obstructed path, Public paths, Ramblers, walking and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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