Charlie Butt, Former Bowdoin Coach of 4 Decades, Dies at 93

Former Bowdoin College men’s swim coach of 39 years Charlie Butt passed away at the age of 93 last Friday, the school announced Monday.

Butt additionally served the women’s program for the first 24 years of its existence and coached soccer for 23 years. In his retirement, he served as an assistant coach for the squash team.

He was born in 1925 in Shanghai, China, and in his youth participated in many sports including swimming and water polo. He attended St. John’s University in Shanghai for two years before the Japanese occupation during World World II closed it down. He then worked as a salesman and oiler before returning to Shanghai after the war, and then became a member of the national soccer team and held Chinese national records in swimming in 50-yard, 100-yard, and 100-meter free.

Butt additionally qualified for the 1948 Olympic Games in London as a member of both the basketball and swimming teams, but did not attend due to his political opposition to the Chinese government. He left China in 1951, and the way he did so was truly remarkable.

Collegiate swim coach Sam Freas told SwimSwam the story:

“Charlie’s story was so interesting, compelling, and intriguing when I personally heard it from him. He escaped China after a basketball game in Beijing, swam to a ship that was in the harbor, climbed up the anchor line and was a stowaway. In order to repay for being a stowaway he spent almost a year on the ship. After struggling to get to Springfield College, he was befriended by the swim coach Red Silvia… Thus he spent a lifetime in swimming. He was a special guy.”

At Springfield, he became an All-American soccer player in 1952 and 1953, captain of the swim team, captain of the tennis team, and a member of the national championship volleyball team in his first year playing. He graduated cum laude in 1953 and later earned an MS, also at Springfield. He coached swimming at Springfield for four years, and then entered a graduate program at  Columbia University Teachers College for 1956 and 1957.

Butt joined Bowdoin in 1961 as head men’s soccer and swimming coach, then was the first coach of the women’s swim program in the 1976-1977 season. He was named NESCAC Coach of the Year in 1988 and men’s Coach of the Year in 1989. In 1994 he was awarded the Richard E. Steadman Award from the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the College Swimming Coaches Association of America.

Before retiring in 2000, he racked up a record of 132-65 in dual meets with the women’s swim team and 198 wins with the men’s squad, coaching more than 50 All-Americans along the way.

In 2010, Butt was inducted into the Maine Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame. He additionally authored articles on swimming and soccer, and was a member of the American Association for Health, Recreation, and Physical Education and the National Soccer Coaches Association.

The school will hold a memorial service this fall. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Charles J. Butt Scholarship Fund at the College (4100 College Station, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME 04011).

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Jon Lederhouse

Charlie was a class act and worked hard for D3 swimming behind the scenes with the NCAA. As a young college coach I was so impressed by his Bowdoin men’s relay team winning the D3 400 Free Relay title without any “big guns” that I set that as my personal measure of coaching success.

dj albertson

What an amazing legacy. This man helped so many young people. Just incredible. Met him when I swam for UConn- very nice man.

DIIIer (Polar Bear elsewhere)

Here is what I wrote elsewhere: Without a doubt, Charlie Butt played an essential role in making me the man I am today (but only the good parts). He pushed me to be better every day — not just in the pool but as a teammate, a student, and a person. I am forever grateful he allowed me to swim in the shallow end the first day of practice my freshman year when I could not make the warmup interval. Without a doubt he was a unique character, forged by perhaps the most interesting life story I have ever heard. I am grateful for my time with him.

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majors in Media Studies and American Studies at Claremont McKenna College. When she's not writing about swimming or baseball, you can probably find her listening to a podcast or in a pool ... and/or watching Seinfeld, which she just realized is funny.

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