John ‘Butch’ Purcell, mayor of Stuy Town, dies at 74

Residents left flowers at the entrance of Playground 9 in Stuyvesant Town this week following the news that John “Butch” Purcell, for whom the playground had recently been renamed, had died on Sunday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

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.

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Opinion: In the name of Butch

John “Butch” Purcell, also known as the mayor of Stuyvesant Town, pictured with his pooch Ginger (Photo by Kelly Vohs)

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.

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