Drew University Mourns the Loss of the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III T’82

Butts was a lifelong advocate for social justice and civil rights

October 2022 – Drew University mourns the loss of the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III T’82, who passed away at the age of 73.


Butts delivered Drew's 2021 Commencement address virtually from Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Butts, who received a doctor of ministry from Drew Theological School, was a lifelong advocate for social justice and civil rights.

He most recently served the Harlem community as senior pastor of the renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church and chair of the Abyssinian Development Corporation.

Simultaneously with his role in the Abyssinian organizations, Butts served as president of SUNY College at Old Westbury for two decades, earning president emeritus status; established several schools; served on numerous boards and commissions; and spearheaded numerous boycotts against institutions that practice racist policies and employment discrimination.

Throughout his career, Butts earned recognition from his alma mater. In 1999, he received Drew’s alumni Distinguished Service Award. In 2021, he received an honorary doctor of ministry degree and served as Drew’s Commencement speaker.

In his Commencement address to Drew graduates across the College of Liberal Arts, Theological School, and Caspersen School of Graduate Studies, Butts asked the poignant question, “What is character?”

“You want to measure your education? You want to know if you really got what I got from Drew? Then measure it according to those standards—is your character strong? Oh, you learned something. You can’t come through Drew and not learn something. You can’t come through Drew and be sitting in front of me listening to my speech and not have learned something. And you’ll be able to go out and earn a living. You’ll find a job. It may not be the job you want, but maybe it’s the job you need. But will you bring the character, hopefully that came from an education at Drew, into that job? … Character. I hope that Drew has drilled that into you.”

Butts remained a revered and respected figure in the Theological School community.

“Dr. Calvin Butts was a leader of unusual gift and unprecedented drive in his roles at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church—the oldest African American Baptist congregation in New York City—and as President of SUNY Old Westbury,” said Gary V. Simpson, associate professor of preaching and pastoral formation at Drew Theological School.

“Either of these responsibilities is a major achievement in its own right. That Dr. Butts did them for over 20 years simultaneously is evidence of his unique gift. Dr. Butts was a significant part of New York City leadership, creating partnerships with leaders, institutions, and organizations for the city’s welfare. His loss leaves great sorrow and a large void for the people of New York and the nation. Much gratitude and many prayers for the Butts family and all who will assuredly benefit from his legacy.”

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