The death of Butler Derrick brings up memories of three friends who formed a relationship at the University of South Carolina into a bond that stayed steady and strong until each departed from this earth. And the world was better for this friendship.
The other two in this trio were Ned Nicholson and Robert Norris — all strong minds needing each other along the way as they lived a life destined by a Higher Power.
Robert, who started at the University a little later in his life than Butler and Ned, knew Ned from growing up in Edgefield. At USC he got to know Butler.
The reason for Robert’s late entry into college was a congenital heart condition that was to determine a short life, but when he did not die at the appointed age, his parents sent him off to public school with everyone else. He was a bit behind in years, but his mind had been fed well, up to then, by two very capable people, his parents.
These three congregated when they could; Ned was the star student and his medical studies kept him from so much late night debate, on the weekends. Marriages brought them all back to Edgefield for a few years of using that tight bond to spring forward into full lives.
It was Robert who left first for Charleston, with his family. A few years later Butler left for Congress. Ned remained to fulfill his need to give his county quality healthcare. Butler’s ambitions were much the same, for a broader perspective including a larger population. Robert, due to health reasons, kept his profile low, but the great humanitarian that he was, his work from which he later retired was a one to one counseling with those folks who had been caught in the court system.
Over the years these three debated issues for hours, never all being on the same side of the “fence,” but ending their word battles with softer tones and easing into that old comfort of “friends forever.”
Robert had three surgeries for his heart with amazing results; the first operation was frightening to all his friends – this was in the 60s when heart surgery was not the breeze it is now. They all gathered with their wives the night before for dinner, to give him their love and support. He made it through, and again another heart surgery some years later, his best friends at his side.
Butler had an aneurysm to burst, in the Willis circle of the brain, while lay reading in his church; he was kneeling in prayer when it happened, and he finished the sermon, making it ever so brief! A miracle they said, not one impairment followed. Years later it was recognized that there could have been a heart attack during the aneurysm episode, and this was an early sign that eventually brought Butler’s career to a close probably earlier than he might have wished, as his heart began to lose its strength.
Robert had one more heart surgery and lived a few days afterward. As he was coming to, in the recovery room, a call came to him. He took it. It was his friend, Butler, giving words of comfort and friendship. They say Robert rolled his eyes; only a politician could make his way into the recovery room, that way!
It was a great surprise to all when Ned became ill with cancer – the best student, the one who had the best health, supposedly. When Butler came to see him, upon learning of this dreaded disease that had hit his friend, it was Ned who said with a chuckle (humor was there at times of crisis): “Butler, you’re going to live longer than I am! I would never have believed it!” And actually they both were amused. Ned died in 2012.
Not many months after that, Butler got the diagnosis of cancer. His two friends had met with their fate in a courageous way. It was his time now. Butler died at 77, Ned at 76, and Robert, whose death came over a decade ago, died at almost 70.
Their friendship never waned.
On Robert’s Tombstone are these words by Rudyard Kipling
“E’en as he trod that day to God,
So walked he from his birth,
In simpleness and gentleness,
And honor and clean mirth.