By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
His name is John Purcell. To his legion of friends he is simply known as “Butch.” He has been a resident of Stuyvesant Town for over five decades. The basketball court Playground 9 near East 18th Street and First Avenue will from now on bear his name. This singular honor will be conferred on Butch in a dedication ceremony next Wednesday, September 25 at 10 a.m. And what a splendid choice he is for that honor.
There have been an array of luminaries to live in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village during those years. Important politicians, sports stars and entertainers as well as leaders of business and industry. So why Butch? Simply put… he deserves it!
Butch has spent his adult life helping young people. He has devoted much of his time keeping kids away from drugs and other self-destructive behaviors. When he has encountered those who have already gone down that poisoned path, he has shown them an off ramp.
For many years, Playground 9 was where Butch held court, in a manner of speaking. He played basketball and by his example, gave boys and young men lessons in how to dribble, rebound, pass and shoot… and so much more. Like Mr. Miyagi in the famous movie the “Karate Kid,” Butch imparted wise lessons in life during those scrimmages that went well beyond the skills needed in basketball. Hundreds of young people learned what it is to be a responsible adult by emulating Butch both on and off the court. For his basketball prowess and his help with people, Butch has been inducted into two basketball Halls of Fame in New York City.
A devoted husband and father, Butch worked for Beth Israel Hospital as a drug therapist for 47 years and eventually became a consultant with the Players Association of the National Basketball Association helping troubled athletes give up the drug culture and reclaim control over their lives. How many careers of now famous professional athletes were saved? Who knows? The impact that Butch has had on the lives of so many stars as well as ordinary people and their families is staggering. It is estimated that Butch worked with five thousand substance abuse addicts in his professional career.
Butch did this work without seeking acclaim or self-promotion. In what has increasingly become a “me first” world, Butch is all about helping others first.
I have known Butch for decades, going back to our years as Stuyvesant Town neighbors. He greets everybody with a big smile and words of encouragement. Butch is proof positive that individuals even without political office or public platforms can make a huge difference in the life trajectory of young people and in their community. I will be reminded of that whenever I walk around Playground 9, which will bear the name John Butch Purcell.
At a time when smart and unselfish leadership in our nation and community is in short supply, we look for persons who lead not for personal profit or power but to do good. John Butch Purcell did very good.