By Maria Rocha-Buschel
John “Butch” Purcell, known to many in the community as the mayor of Stuyvesant Town, passed away on Sunday night at age 74. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and their son, John Purcell Jr.
Purcell earned his mayor nickname from being one of the first black families that moved into Stuyvesant Town in the 1960s, and he celebrated his 50th year in the community in 2018.
Purcell played basketball throughout his life and although he never went pro himself, he started coaching at 27. He coached athletes at Harlem’s Rucker Park tournaments from 1972 to 1992, as well as for the New York Pro Basketball League, and by his own estimate, coached more than 75 NBA players, including Julius Erving. He was honored by the Brooklyn USA Athletic Association for his coaching career in 2017.
In addition to coaching, Purcell also worked for more than 40 years in drug counseling at Beth Israel Medical Center, where he started working in 1967 for the hospital’s methadone treatment program. Purcell worked directly for the NBA during the 1980s as well, counseling players, and continued to counsel players and others until he retired in 2013.