Frank Willis Butler, president and Chief Executive Officer of Catalina Yachts, died at Westlake Village on Nov. 15, 2020, from unexpected complications from a recent illness. He was 92 years old.
Butler founded Catalina Yachts in 1969 in Hollywood. The company has grown to become the largest builder of fiberglass production sailboats in the United States.
Long Beach Yacht Club Commodore Charles Legeman said, “Frank Butler is the one person who helped take Congressional Cup to the top level in the world by his donation of the Catalina 37s, which were specifically built for match racing."
Butler not only donated the boats in 1989, he designed and built the fleet of 11 Catalina 37s especially for the event. The Long Beach Yacht Club awarded him the Crimson Blazer in recognition of his contributions to Congressional Cup. The Long Beach stop in the California Dreamin' Series is also named the Butler Cup in his honor.
Long Beach Port Pilot Bob Blair said, “I’ve seen many happy faces aboard Catalina Yachts sailboats — encompassing recreational boating families along with amateur and professional sailors competing on the 37s and 38s. The Catalina Yachts' various fleets are enjoyed on the waters around the world. “
Blair attributed the growth of sailing to Frank Butler, noting that he introduced hundreds of thousands of people to sailing. The line of popular sailboats put more than 85,000 Catalinas on the water.
Mark Michaelsen, maritime businessman, shared a story that spoke to Butler’s customer service and how he personally handled warranty issues:
“Frank took a call from a Coronado 15 owner who had submitted a rudder for warranty. Frank put the customer on speaker so that he could get up and inspect said rudder for defects. He picked the rudder up while he continued to ask the customer (Robert) what had happened.
"I could clearly see from where I was sitting that there was a horizontal hairline crack in the rudder. ‘Robert' went on to tell Frank that he and his wife were just out sailing in Marina del Rey, and when they took the rudder off the back of the boat they noticed the crack.
“Continuing on the speakerphone, Frank seemed amused although I had no idea why. Frank told Robert that ‘Yes, we will honor the warranty and send you a new rudder...' Then Frank flipped the rudder around so I could see the other side, which clearly had a tire tread print across it... Then Frank said ‘Robert, next time be more careful where you drive your car...' and promptly hung up the phone.”
Frank is survived by Jean, his wife of 71 years, their four daughters Deborah Reese, Mary Linn, Nancy Bear, and Karen Butler; three sons, David, Robert, and Steve; 20 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren.
Butler’s favorite treat was a root beer float, and he often served them to celebrate milestones. Without a doubt many will be toasting a life well lived and scooping up some ice cream in his honor in the days ahead.