Lew Butler has dedicated his life to public service across a broad array of fields, including public health, environmental conservation, multicultural civic engagement, and the eradication of nuclear weapons. He was born and raised in San Francisco and attended public schools and St. Ignatius High School here. Before going into the US Navy in World War II he went to MIT on a scholarship, and after the war with help from the GI Bill he graduated from Princeton and Stanford Law School. He married Sheana Wohlford from a San Diego County citrus farming family and for ten years was a corporate lawyer in San Francisco. They have three children – Lucy Butler, Lewis Wohlford Butler and Serra Butler Simbeck, all now married with families and living in California.
In 1961 Lew and his family went to Malaysia where he helped establish the Peace Corps program there and served as its director until 1964. They then returned to San Francisco where he and Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey, later a Congressman from the Palo Alto area, created the law firm of Butler and McCloskey, representing citizen groups concerned with the environment. In 1969 he and his family moved to the Washington DC area where he served as Assistant Secretary in the Department of Health Education and Welfare (HEW). During that time he participated in the creation of the Environmental Protection Administration and prepared President Nixon’s proposal for national health insurance. In part because of the President’s conduct of the Vietnam War he resigned from his HEW job in 1971 and returned with his family to San Francisco. The next year at University of California San Francisco he co-founded with Dr. Philip R. Lee, then the Chancellor, the Institute of Health Policy Studies that is now named for Dr. Lee. They worked there together until the mid-1980s when Lew retired to devote his time to California’s future as a multicultural state through the nonprofit organization California Tomorrow, whose board he chaired for twenty-five years. During that time he also helped Sally Lilienthal found the Ploughshares Fund to campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons and chaired its board until 2004.
As part of the celebration of his 75th birthday in 2002, a large group of Lew’s friends created the Butler Koshland Fund for him at the San Francisco Foundation, the Koshland in the name being in honor of Lew’s great friend and mentor Dan Koshland, the founder of the Foundation. For the past ten years that fund has supported the Butler Koshland Fellowships to encourage the development of future civic leaders for the Bay Area, California, and the nation.