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A tribute to Pickens historian Mimi Jo Butler



Full Circle––Winding down toward retirement in June 2008, Butler paused for a photo outside the principal’s office at Tate Elementary. She began at the school as a first grader in 1946 and finished her career there as a school counselor 62 years later.

Honored historian, community leader, lifelong mentor Mimi Jo Butler died last Thursday, March 17, after a brave battle against cancer. Born in 1940, Butler turned 70 in September. Her tireless work over a lifetime favorably impacted the greater community and many individuals she befriended, making the loss of her influence something that will continue to be felt county-wide.

Reared in Pickens County, Butler began school at Tate's marble schoolhouse.

"We started Tate School together in 1946 and quickly became like sisters," recalled lifelong friend, Barbara Cline. With all of her public education acquired at Tate (the schoolhouse housed both a primary and high school then), Butler completed her first two years of college at Young Harris and gained a double major in history and sociology from Emory University.

She compiled a 30-year career as a school counselor (five years in Cobb County; 25 in Cherokee) before she retired and returned to Pickens County, later to serve the school system here as a counselor part-time.

Before Butler became a school counselor, she was a social worker right after college. "I was a DFACS worker for three [years] first," Butler said in a 2008 Progress interview. "Being a high school counselor looked easy after that. I was a protective service worker. I did do some adoptions also. I had two kids on my case load die the same summer in the same foster home––one of SIDS and the other of cancer.

"I still remain in contact with about five of the foster parents I worked with from that long time ago," she said.

That became a pattern for life as Butler continued to interact with people whose lives she had touched in a former time. She maintained an influential bond over years and decades.

To the larger community, Butler is maybe best remembered as an activist for historic preservation. A pillar of the local Marble Valley Historical Society, Butler played the major role in converting Jasper's Old Jail into a working and welcoming history museum.

"When she started, it was just nothing," said Ruth Wall, who became acquainted with Butler through the Historical Society and grew to become a close friend. "She was a walking encyclopedia about the history of this county," Wall said. "And she was a stickler for the truth."

If something could not be substantiated, Butler did not want it told for history, Wall said. Articles by Butler on Pickens County history often appeared in the pages of this newspaper.

Whether pushing for preservation or advocating for school kids, Butler was known as an irresistible force. "There wasn't anything that she couldn't do anything about, I don't guess," Wall laughed.

"She's always been very vivacious all her life," Barbara Cline remembered, "and anything she believed in she worked in it wholeheartedly." Butler was the kind to roll up her sleeves and pitch into a task, working just as hard as the people she had come alongside to help, Cline said.

"She only knew one speed and that was 'Go'," Butler's daughter Ellen stated.

The Rev. Rob Bruce, Butler's pastor at Tate United Methodist Church, related how Butler chaired the building committee when he arrived mid-project to lead the church. Organized and efficient, Butler quickly brought the pastor up to speed on how the work progressed.

Eulogizing Butler, Bruce said, "You know, someone made the comment yesterday, 'Maybe heaven is now the most organized place in the cosmos [with Butler aboard]'." The congregation gathered together for Butler's funeral (standing room only) chuckled in agreement with Bruce's comment.

He characterized Butler as a person of loyalty, commitment and steadfast love. "She was a strong woman," Bruce said. "Had the energy of ten people. She would whirl through places like the Tasmanian Devil." Again his audience responded in gentle laughter.

"She was opinionated," Bruce said. "She was Mimi Jo. There will never be another one like her, and I will miss her terribly."

"She was a great second mother to many of us in this room today," he said.

Even after her career as a school counselor ended, Butler kept in touch with many of the students and families she had worked with as a counselor. Friend Ruth Wall said she and Butler were seldom ever together in a public place without encountering some former student who would come up and speak to Mimi Jo.

In many cases, Butler's contact as a counselor turned into a friendship for life. In some cases, Butler provided benevolence from her own resources to former students in need as adults, Wall said. Butler tried to keep that a secret, Wall added.

"She never wanted recognition for herself," Wall said. "She did so much, but she didn't let people know what she was doing."

The Pickens County Retired Teachers Association recognized Butler for her selfless service last December when they bestowed their Golden Deed Award. Speaking to that assembly then, Butler said, “When I came back to Pickens in 2000, I was not prepared for the poverty that had happened here in Pickens County since I left.

“I mentored whole families that didn't have running water or electricity. Every day in education is an opportunity for something to happen. Education affords you an opportunity to give kids opportunities they never would have had. Working with kids is fun.”

In a eulogy for her mother, Butler's daughter Ellen said that in her last days Mimi Jo typed a message to her family. "My life has been touched by so many," it began and referred to a passage penned by Bob Patton, another educator:  "Just yesterday I said I've taught them all. I've taught the colored and the not so colored. I've taught the young and the not so young. I've taught the disciplined and the not so disciplined.

"I've taught the clever and the not so clever. I've taught the washed and the not so washed. But as I look back today, I was taught by them all."

"I will miss the kids," Butler told the Progress in 2008 as she faced retirement a second time from school counseling. "I will not miss the bureaucracy of some things."

"You cannot lose your perspective because some things don't go the way they should go," she stated. "I think that's what being a social worker first taught me. You've got to realize that if you lose your perspective about it, you can't help anybody. You've gotta be able to realize when you've done all you can, you've done all you can do."

It is the balance she tried to keep as an advocate, knowing some painful situations go unanswered despite all efforts.

"Kids can't help being dealt not a fair hand through no fault of their own," Butler said. "My philosophy is if you're not willing to help somebody, then you live a very dull life."

Warren can be reached at

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Bent Tree’s first deer kill sparks controversy from homeowners

Some homeowners of gated community infuriated, accuse board of

mismanagement and inadequate research

The gated community of Bent Tree has just undergone its first deer culling, where 54 deer were shot by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) to thin a herd wildlife officials say became too large for the residential area. 

 But some property owners in the community vehemently opposed the killing, which took place Monday, March 14 through Wednesday, March 16. They accuse the Bent Tree Board of Directors of not backing up the cull with enough research, of improperly conducting the herd survey, of not attempting to manage the herd with alternative methods, of mismanaging funds to pay for the cull and, in some cases, of wanting to eliminate the wildlife in Bent Tree for the sake of saving “fancy yards and flowers” from becoming deer food.   

 Over the three-day cull, Mitch Yeargin of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said he was called out to subdue conflicts that may have arisen from Bent Tree residents opposed to the kill.


Read the rest of this story in our print edition on sale now at these area locations.

Heavy winds leave mostly minor property damage


Employees from Jasper Banking Company and a neighboring print shop on Main Street clean up the remains of the clock-sign which was blown away in heavy winds Wednesday night. Other roofs and signs throughout Jasper showed signs of damage from strong winds Thursday morning. 


See more scenes from wind damage Wednesday around Jasper

Damage from Wednesday night’s winds were mostly minor and mainly in Jasper.

“It appears at this point the damage was pretty much cosmetic with a little debris, downed trees, signs awning and some roof damage,” said Pickens Fire Chief Bob Howard. However, he noted there may be damage that hasn’t been reported yet.

Seniors again seeking school tax relief


A group of senior citizens met with State Rep. Rick Jasperse Friday in Bent Tree to look at options for older residents to gain some exemption from property taxes that fund schools.

About ten seniors, some of whom led previous efforts to gain a senior tax exemption, brought the issue out of hibernation with the organizational meeting.

Near the end of the meeting, Robert Winston summed up the status: “We’re off to a good start here. It will be interesting to see what happens when the story hits the streets. We need to get our facts and figures and see where we’re going to go with this.”

Friday’s roundtable organizer Walter Bogas said he has been spearheading efforts for at least three years trying to gain some type of senior property tax relief, but his efforts have not been well received thus far.