Long-serving U.S. congressman Butler Derrick dies

DerrickFor two decades, Derrick represented South Carolina in the U.S. Congress and was appointed to lead the country’s first budget task force in 1980 by then-U.S. House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill. S.C. political leaders said Derrick was an effective consensus builder with political acuity.

Staff Report
Published May 6, 2014

Butler Derrick, one of the longest serving congressmen from South Carolina, died Monday at age 77.

Derrick, who retired as an attorney with the Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough law firm in 2012, was one of the prominent faces and voices in S.C. politics for more than two decades.

Campaign material from one of Butler Derrick's campaigns. (Image provided by Thomas Cooper Library University of South Carolina)
Campaign material from one of Butler Derrick's campaigns. (Image provided by Thomas Cooper Library University of South Carolina)
“Butler was a friend and colleague of our firm long before he joined us to help us open the Washington office in 2004,” said Jim Lehman, managing partner for Nelson Mullins. “Butler served the state of South Carolina admirably before becoming one of the most respected congressmen in Washington. His folksy Southern charm and his understanding of how Congress works made Butler not only an effective representative of his clients, but a pleasure to know as a friend.”

Derrick served as a Democratic representative in the U.S. Congress for 20 years, previously serving in the S.C. House of Representatives. He also held a partnership with a small law firm in Edgefield where he practiced civil and criminal law.

“In Washington, Butler Derrick rose through the ranks of Democratic politics to become a strong voice for his party in the U.S. House of Representatives,” U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement. “Closer to home, he was known for a very caring and effective constituent service operation which put the needs of his constituents first.”

Graham said Derrick assisted him in transitioning to the U.S. House of Representatives early in his political career when he took over Derrick’s seat.

Congressman Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said he got to know Derrick when Clyburn worked for S.C. Gov. John West and Derrick served in the state Legislature.

“He was a kind man with a desire to better South Carolina and help those who called it home,” Clyburn said in a statement. “He loved this state and devoted his life to making it a better place for its citizens. Our friendship grew when I was elected to Congress and he was serving as chief deputy whip. His leadership and dedication to South Carolina will surely be missed.”

Butler was born in Springfield, Mass., but he grew up in Florence after his parents, who were from South Carolina, returned to the Pee Dee area, according to a bio from Nelson Mullins. He received his law degree from the University of Georgia.

In the S.C. General Assembly, Derrick served on the Ways and Means Committee. He was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1974 and was appointed to the rules committee by U.S. House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill in 1979. In 1980, O’Neill appointed Derrick to lead the first budget task force and he eventually became the fifth ranking member of the House leadership.

Derrick had a reputation as a thoughtful and pragmatic member who could secure passage of important legislation by working behind the scenes, Nelson Mullins said in its bio.

He began working in Nelson Mullins’ office in Washington in 2004 after he left Congress. Today, that office has more than 40 attorneys and policy advisors, the law firm said.

“Butler leaves a legacy of gentility and professionalism that won’t soon be forgotten on The Hill or at Nelson Mullins,” Lehman said.