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Former Cumberland County Sheriff Earl ‘Moose’ Butler dies


Former Cumberland County Sheriff Earl “Moose” Butler died Sunday morning, the Sheriff’s Office said in a release.

He was 84.

Butler, a well-known high school and college football star, served as sheriff for 22 years - from 1994 until his retirement in 2016.

“It is with a heavy heart and profound sadness that we announce the passing of retired Sheriff Earl R. Butler,’’ the Sheriff’s Office said in the statement. “Please keep the Butler family, friends and the members of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office in your thoughts and prayers during this incredibly difficult time.”

Butler died at Village Green Health and Rehabilitation.

All flags will be lowered to half-staff Monday at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, the adjacent Judge E. Maurice Braswell Cumberland County Courthouse and all county facilities, according to a county spokeswoman. The flags will remain at half-staff until Butler’s funeral. Services are pending.

“It was the least we could do,” said Glenn Adams, chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. "First and foremost, Sheriff Butler cared about people. He was a fair and just man. He thought about the whole county and how to make it the best place to live for everyone. He led by example, and before many others were doing so, he advanced people regardless of race. He was a gentle giant of a man."

Commissioners Toni Stewart, Michael Boose, Jimmy Keefe, Larry Lancaster, Charles Evans and Jeannette Council joined with Adams in remembering Butler.

“The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners extends our deepest condolences to Sheriff Butler’s family and friends, as well as the law enforcement community, which has lost a dedicated champion,’’ their statement said. “We are grateful for Sheriff Butler’s 22 years of service to Cumberland County and the legacy he leaves behind.’’

Ronnie Mitchell, legal counsel to the Sherriff’s Office, said there have been numerous telephone calls from law enforcement agencies across the state as people express their condolences.

“And I’ve heard from so many deputies,” Mitchell said. “All feel a tremendous sense of loss. Moose Butler was the archetype and the epitome of humanity at its finest. He had the most giving heart of any person I have had the opportunity to know. He was just absolutely unique. 

“My wife and I were talking, and she said, ‘He knew the office of sheriff was important, but he never made himself important.’ He never aggrandized himself.”

Mitchell recalled that Ed Grannis, the late and longtime county district attorney, once said Butler was a sheriff for other sheriffs to emulate.

“He said, ‘Moose is going to tell it like it is,’” Mitchell said. “‘And when it comes to integrity, not they broke the mold, but he broke the mold. What every sheriff ought to be.’”

Billy West, now the county district attorney, said Butler was a presence.

“He was one who was always larger than life,” West said. “One who you always thought would be with us. He was one of our best in our law enforcement community. He was a great family man and a man of integrity. I never knew his integrity to be questioned. He was just larger than life to the people in this community.”

Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin and members of the City Council also issued a statement.

“Today, many hearts of our community are saddened by the passing of former Sheriff Moose Butler. Sheriff Butler contributed tremendously to the safety and security of our community with his decades of public service,’’ the statement said. “We are rarely given an opportunity to work with a true servant like Moose Butler. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sheriff Butler’s family and loved ones’’.

Butler grew up in the Massey Hill community mill village of Puritan, Tolar-Hart and Poe’s Bottom. He graduated from Massey Hill High School in 1956, where he was a gifted football athlete under the late Young Howard. He earned an athletic scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and played under Coach Jim Tatum.

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League, he later returned to Cumberland County and worked for 30 years as district supervisor with the North Carolina Department of Probation and Parole before being elected sheriff. He served six terms until his retirement after 22 years in December 2016.

“I said a long time ago that I would leave when I felt it was time for me to go,” Butler said before his retirement. “And I feel like it's time.”

Butler was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia shortly after his retirement, according to a close family friend.

Among Butler’s accomplishments as sheriff was national accreditation of the Sheriff’s Office, a new Cumberland County Detention Center and a Cumberland County memorial honoring county law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

During his career as sheriff, Butler served on various state boards, including the Governor’s Crime Commission and as president of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association. 

Butler endorsed his chief deputy Ennis Wright as his successor. Wright was appointed by the Cumberland County commissioners to succeed Butler.

Butler was honored on Aug. 10 when Princeton Street - which runs alongside his beloved Massey Hill Baptist Church - was renamed Moose Butler Lane in a unanimous vote by the Fayetteville City Council. Butler and his wife, Julia, have been members of the church for 64 years.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Cumberland County, sheriff, Earl 'Moose' Butler