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Good-bye to Butch from the local government family

By Sarah Buckler, LGAQ General Manager, Advocate 

They often say people are memorialised in death, but everyone knew Mayor Butch Lenton was special. From the first time he met you, he drew you in because special was how he made you feel.  His charm cut through the pretence that is often so thick around us all.  He connected with peoples’ authentic self, anywhere – but preferably in Winton – holding any office, and in any walk of life.  

I had the privilege to attend his funeral on Monday, along with 1400 other people.  It was a showcase – of a life lived, of a life loved, and of a life that will leave a mighty hole in the hearts of many – not just those in the West. The service was gut wrenchingly sad, and yet there was joy, music and laughter, and a decent reminder from Butch’s daughter, Carly, that we all needed to take a spoonful of cement, toughen up and get on with it, as that is what Butch would have told us to do. The raw honesty of the words spoken showed how many had been touched by this man. The reality of the unreality became clear – he was no longer with us.

Yet even in death, he showed how we should move forward. From the messages he had prepared for his wife and family to the lasting reminder he gave Barcaldine Mayor, Cr Robbie Chandler. “Go the mighty Diamantina Devils” will long be ringing in Robbie’s ears as Butch made sure he had the last word on which team would remain supreme in the world of outback rugby league, even though he would no longer be there on the sideline. 

Driving around Winton, reminders of Butch are everywhere. 

They are in the geothermal plant emerging from the ground which will give life and power to the community for generations to come, to the Waltzing Matilda museum that will stand as the heart of the town, a beacon of its past and a catalyst for its future prosperity. To the beauty and strength of his daughter, Carly, whose powerful tribute to her father made you realise the Lenton leadership legacy and passion for Winton does not end with Butch.

It was a day when there were many words said, and yet none were enough. It was a day filled with ceremony and yet it was the simplest things that were being celebrated.  To find the beauty in nothing and yet see it in everything …. to stop chasing a bucket list and embrace happiness where you are ... to take time to listen and understand … and to lead from behind so you bring everyone along.  For me at least, these were the lessons I would take away but everyone would have their Butch take aways, our roadies so to speak.  Roadies that will keep us going now we can no longer share a beer and a yarn with Butch.

For Queensland local government it is especially tragic. Winton Shire Council and its Mayor Butch Lenton is a benchmark of civic leadership, visionary planning, entrepreneurial spirit, community engagement and regional collaboration. 

More than a third of Queensland’s local governments' leaders came to pay their respects, all very aware their contemporary, their colleague, their mate deserved to have them there in force. It was mind blowing to see the depth and breadth of his impact, from sporting clubs, to business, to art, culture and even his beloved disability sector – one after another the tributes came for a man who was relentless in walking the talk, that Winton and Outback Queensland could provide a life worth living for anyone and a place you could be proud to call home.

His welcoming embrace and desire to share this love with everyone was central to the day.  Everyone who came to Winton fell in love with it and with Butch.  Robbie Katter MP reflected he had never seen the Premier more relaxed than when she came to Winton and in the company of Butch but he had the same impact on everyone.  Everyone was equal in the eyes of Butch and this was not lost on the room as the Premier’s heartfelt message, eloquently delivered by the Minister for Main Roads and Energy, Mark Bailey MP, was simply given as one of the many public tributes expressing grief at his loss.

He transcended politics. Deputy Leader of the Nationals Senator Fiona Nash held back tears as she spoke of her staff members’ best days in office being those spent with Butch, taking them off-road so they could truly see the potential of his proposals. And then there was our own leader’s tribute.  Clearly breaking inside, LGAQ CEO Greg Hallam stood to remember his friend and his inspiration.  Their 20-year relationship was also a shared journey, navigating the good and the bad.  Their partnership has been one which we can only hope can be repeated – a model of how local government is at its core about people.  A model of how you get things done.  A model of mutual respect and a model of mateship.

Watching Greg hand Butch’s widow Ros his long service certificate, it was evident this small token would mean so much.  The motor mechanic who became the mayor showed us all how to do it.  At a time when our sector is plagued with bad headlines generated from the actions of a few, we need to balance the ledger. Graham ‘Butch’ Lenton is a local government legend for all the right reasons.

Winton has a proud history.  It has many claims to fame, from the birthplace of Qantas to the Home of Waltzing Matilda.  History will equally remember Winton as both the birthplace and home of Butch Lenton, who will stand deservedly amongst those achievements for a long time to come.

Local government is going to miss Butch, but we will learn from his lessons and legacy and we will keep getting on with it – just as he would have wanted.   

May you rest in peace. Vale Butch Lenton



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