Saturday, March 21, 2015

In memoriam: Charles Button

I had heard great things about Charlies Button when I headed over to run the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority in 1987.  He was at the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, and I needed to build our team to carry out the $4 billion Boston Harbor Cleanup.  We met on City Hall Plaza and walked around talking about his experience, while I made the pitch to come on over.

He wasn't playing hard to get, but he turned me down flat.  The issue was that our agency--off to some false starts--had not yet proved that it was serious about creating a strong enough organization to carry out this massive project.  The last thing he was going to do was join a place that did not have the commitment and resources in place to succeed.  He was waiting for a sign that we were for real.

He got that sign after we purchased the Quincy shipyard for $50 million for a project laydown area, got our Board to commit to an 80-person project management team, and designated Richard Fox to run the project.  Dick said he was going to make another run at Charlie, and, sure enough, he joined our team.

You can read about this fellow's extensive accomplishments in this obituary.  If it has something to do with the region's wastewater infrastructure for over 40 years, he had a hand in it.  But as in all such matters, it is not what he did that we now remember, but how he did it.  He was the ultimate engineering professional, prudently and methodically considering the options to solve a problem, unswayed by passions of the day, understanding that the physical infrastructure he was building was being designed to last for decades. His clients were the public.  Sure he was dealing in steel and concrete, but underlying the fabrication of structures was a desire to do the best for the people of Boston and the metropolitan area.

Finally, there was his demeanor.  Understated, listening more than talking, thinking before opining,  respectful of elected officials but unafraid to engage in quiet forcefulness to persuade them with the facts, and always ready to find humor in the situation and letting a wry smile appear on his face. Whether Charlie was talking or listening, we always turned to him with trust: His judgement, commitment to the public good, and integrity were never, ever in doubt.  Millions of people in this region--for decades to come--will owe him a debt of gratitude.  It was a privilege and pleasure to know him.


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear about Charlie's passing. He was the embodiment of the commitment, cleverness and professionalism that defined the MWRA when it was carrying out the massive harbor clean-up. I hope Boston's return to the sea over the past two decades gave him enormous satisfaction. That's quite a legacy to leave.

Stephen Corbett said...

From Facebook:

I worked for Charlie when I was the Transportation and Logistics Manager for the Boston Harbor Project. In addition to being the smartest engineer I have ever met, he was also one of the finest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing! There can be no doubt about that. When my own life faced serious challenges as life often does Charlie was there for me when so many others were not available. He was a dear friend and I will miss him terribly, Thank you Charlie. Rest in peace.

Lorraine M. Downey said...

Charlie Button was one of those unique people your are lucky to meet. He was one of those engineer who could make non engineers understand what he was doing. He he understood both the big P and small P of politics and could plant the seed and get things done. He was a gentleman who loved a good time and was always fun to be with. I'm proud to have known and worked with him. Boston Harbor lost not just a friend and soldier but a General. Thank you Charlie. Rest in Peace

Robert J. Ciolek said...

From Facebook:

I very much liked and respected Charlie and he will be missed. I always knew I could count on him and I trusted his judgment.