VALE – Many people do not figure out a career path until they are out of high school or college.
Not Bob Butler.
Butler was 5 when he realized he wanted to be an attorney.
The insight happened when he tagged along with his father to see local attorney Charlie Swan.
“Charlie’s office was directly across the intersection, kitty-corner, from the old Vale Hotel. His office was upstairs. I remember going up those stairs and it was warm and smelled good,” said Butler.
Butler and his father were ushered into Swan’s office.
“I said something to the effect that this looks like a pretty good racket. Charlie said, ‘Young man if you go to law school I will take you on as a junior partner.’ At that point my decision was made,” said Butler.
Seven decades later, Bob Butler is a managing partner in the Vale law office of Butler, Looney & Martinsen and he was recently inducted into the Vale High School Alumni Association Hall of Fame.
Butler was born and raised in Vale. Other than his time at the University of Oregon to acquire an undergraduate degree and his law degree, he’s lived locally his entire life.
Butler has also been deeply involving in civic work, including stints as a stake president and bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Vale Elementary School District, the Vale City Council, Vale Chamber of Commerce and, along with his father and Swan, created the Malheur Country Historical Society in the 1970s.
Swan’s influence on Butler’s life was immeasurable.
“He was a wonderful mentor,” said Butler.
Through Butler’s college career he kept in touch with Swan.
“I’d come home for holidays and so forth and I’d meet with Charlie or call him up. If I had some optional classes to take, I’d say, here are my choices and he’d say here is the one that would be good for you,” said Butler.
When Butler finished law school, he returned to Vale.
“So, on Sept. 1, 1967, at the ripe old age of 23, I showed up at his doorstep and said I am ready to practice law and we sat down and reached an agreement for a partnership. We formed the partnership called Swan and Butler and I began to practice law,” said Butler.
Butler said Swan “treated me like a son.”
“He was very kind to me and patient as we worked through things. He was 67 and thinking about what he was going to do. He was very pleased to have me show up and I was pleased for him letting me show up,” said Butler.
Butler said his family came to Malheur County in 1940 when his father Ross– who worked for Idaho Power – took over the company’s Vale office. Butler’s father was also a bit of an entrepreneur and through his friendship with Nephi and Golden Grigg was on the ground floor of Ore-Ida and helped to develop the Tater Tot.
Butler’s father and Nephi Grigg also owned a brickyard outside of Vale where Butler worked as a child and as a teen.
“I worked there doing man’s work,” said Butler.
There were nine children in Butler’s family and he faced a lot of chores.
“We had a huge garden. We always had a cow. I milked a cow in the evenings for years. Sometimes we had two cows. It was an easy life. I remember well, laying out on the lawn at home and looking at the different shapes of the clouds,” he said.
Butler said one of the best attributes of his job is the ability to help people.
“You get involved in something that is unique or working with someone with a particular problem and it is exciting to me to see how we can resolve it. Helping people to solve problems is really an enjoyable thing,” said Butler.
Two of Butler’s children, Lewis and R. David Butler II, work at the Vale law office.
Butler calls his firm “sagebrush lawyers.”
“We do everything but admiralty, the law of the high seas,” he joked.
The firm, he said, does not do bankruptcy work or take worker’s compensation cases.
“We do a lot of probate. My primary practice has been in those areas. I do estate planning, probates and trusts and a lot of business planning,” he said.
Butler said he does not “do litigation.”
In 57 years as a local attorney Butler said he’s learned people are “by and large, basically good.”
His local roots also play a role in his practice.
“One of the hallmarks I think that is significant to being in the practice of law as long as I have is I am representing people at times into the fifth generation. I can say I knew your grandfather,” he said.
Butler recalled significant moments in his career.
“I told Lewis, you ought to start making a journal of these cases. Through the years I’ve had so many interesting experiences. Something will trigger a memory and I will tell Lewis about it. It’s constant change. Things are different every day,” he said.
Butler said his help isn’t always obvious.
“I’d rather do it quietly. So, when I do make a difference, it is usually known by very few people. Most of the difference I’ve made is not anything anyone sees,” he said.
He said a good example of that is a divorce case he handled.
“I would have a wife who would say, just give it to him. I am not going to fight anymore. I’d have to say, if you don’t stand up for yourself you can’t expect someone else to do it. Later, she’d say, boy I am sure glad you had me do that,” said Butler.
Butler and his wife, Sandy, are parents to five children.
Butler said when his son Lewis joined the firm in March 2022, he cut back on his workload.
But he has no plans to retire.
“What would I do? I have no hobbies. I have never hit a golf ball with a golf club. I’ve hit one with a baseball bat. I like to fish but don’t like to go fishing alone. I am perfectly happy to come down here,” he said.
Work is Butler’s motivation.
Butler is an early riser – up usually by 6 a.m. – which gives him time to “read and ponder and think and to study.”
“It’s a new day, a good day, and I am happy to get up and come down to the office and help,” he said.
Butler said he wishes there was a different perception of lawyers.
“I think there is a bad perception of lawyers. But there was never a more honest man than Charlie Swan. He was the guy who taught me. I think we get a bad rap and are the butt of a lot of lawyer jokes and I enjoy them but I think we provide a significant service to the community,” he said.
He said that “by and large the practice of law is an honorable practice.”
Butler said he was deeply honored by the alumni recognition.
“I am humbled to think people think I am worthy of that kind of an honor. I think there are a lot of people who do a lot of good in the community more than I do,” he said.
Butler said he is happy with where he is now in life.
“I feel like it is a life well lived. I am not done yet, but I am working on it,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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