Sheriff John Butterworth served the Marion community for decades. He was elected to an unmatched six terms in office. Butterworth answered thousands of calls from residents and influenced a generation of local officers. Though John died of esophageal cancer in 2014, his wife, sons, friends, and colleagues ensure his impact is still being felt.
While ill with cancer, Butterworth created the Spirit of Hope Cancer Fund with the Marion General Hospital Foundation in October 2013 to provide support for local cancer patients. John’s goal was to raise $100,000 for the fund.
“Generous hearts have tripled the fund amount!” said Phyllis Butterworth, John’s widow. “He would love knowing how many more people we help today and with more than just gas and restaurant gift cards. For example, the fund helps cancer patients so they don’t have to choose between filling prescriptions and buying food. He’d be proud.”
In addition, Sheriff Butterworth joined with Don Davis, a local appraiser, and realtor, to give Bibles to local law enforcement academy graduates. John provided a St. Michael’s medal and a holy prayer card for each graduate. St. Michael is the patron saint of law enforcement officers.
After John died, Phyllis continued providing gifts to graduates. Two years ago, his oldest son took over the tradition.
John Butterworth was born in Marion in 1950 to Hazel and Frank Butterworth. He graduated from Harding High School. He started as a dispatcher for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in 1969.
“His love for public service came naturally as his father, Frank, was a city firefighter,” Phyllis said.
Butterworth worked his way up. He served as an officer, detective, and sergeant and ultimately was elected sheriff in 1980, a position he served in until 2004.
Butterworth was proud of modernizing the sheriff’s department and implementing Marion County’s first 911 system. He also taught at Marion Technical College.
John’s influence extended across the state and the nation. He was a past president of the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association. He influenced state and federal laws, standards, and best practices. He also was a regional coordinator for the Ohio Department of Homeland Security.
Butterworth was active at St. Mary Catholic Church and supported many local agencies and charities, including the Marion County Children’s Services Board and Turning Point.
“John never apologized for his love of community. He was born and raised in Marion. As sheriff, he proudly served the residents of Marion County,” Phyllis said.
Butterworth received a number of awards. He was thrilled to be inducted into the Harding High School Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame.
The only thing John loved more than his community was his family. He was the proud father of two sons, John and Robert, both of whom followed him into law enforcement. He loved being a grandfather and a father-in-law.
John liked to say he was Phyllis’s husband and he often claimed that he “married up,” which often prompted an eye roll and a smile from her. They were together for 28 years.
In the years since John’s passing, Phyllis has focused on moving forward.
“Being a widow is hard work, but it can also be very worthwhile and fulfilling. The first four years were rough,” Phyllis said. “Thank goodness for girlfriends! Slowly but surely, I lead a life of joy. It’s helpful to have a purpose.”
Phyllis focuses on community service and the Spirit of Hope Fund.
“I continue both out of love for and in the name of John,” Phyllis said. “Even though it is bittersweet without Johnny B, it’s still good.”
While the years since his death have been challenging, Phyllis works to lift up others dealing with the loss of a spouse.
“There’s no rule book or guide on how to navigate life without a loved one. It’s the path less traveled. It’s the unknown. It’s life,” Phyllis said. “I do know this: take every chance to hug those you love. Connect. Be kind. Support one another.”