J W Butters

RSE obituary

by J B Clark

Obituaries Index

John Watt Butters was born in Edinburgh in 1863, and died in his native city on January 11, 1946. In his early school years he showed marked mathematical ability, and he was fortunate in being under the care of a headmaster who was himself a notable mathematician. Following on a period of service as a pupil-teacher under George Heriot's Trust, he studied concurrently at the Established Church Training College and the University of Edinburgh. His university course was one of unusually high distinction, and in 1894 he graduated as M.A., B.Sc., with First-Class Honours in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy.

Short periods of teaching service, first in Aberystwyth and then in James Gillespie's School, preceded his joining the Mathematical and Science Staff of George Heriot's School, to which he went in 1888. There for eleven years he did splendid work, his teaching being characterised by a most inspiring freshness and clarity. In 1899 he proceeded to Ardrossan as Rector of its Academy, and under his guiding hand the Academy soon came to be recognised as one of the leading Secondary Schools in the West of Scotland. During the period of his Rectorship in Ardrossan Mr Butters played a leading part in the Council of the Educational Institute of Scotland, his skill in dealing with the difficult problems affecting such questions as superannuation being widely recognised by his fellow-members.

Returning to Edinburgh on his retiral in 1928, he at once entered into the intellectual life of the city. He was an active and most valuable member of the Business Committee of the General Council of the University, and also of the Council of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and he very rarely missed a meeting either of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society or of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which he became a Fellow in 1896.

Mr Butters was a man of exceptionally wide intellectual interests. He was a keen nature lover, and the fells of the Lake District, the peaks of Arran, and the bens of the Highlands had, for him, an irresistible attraction. He was, too, a most loyal friend, and all of us who were privileged to know him held him in the highest regard.

He married a sister of Dr Crichton Mitchell, and by her, and by a son and two daughters, he is survived.

John Watt Butters was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 6 April 1896. He was proposed by Peter Guthrie Tait, George Chrystal, David Fowler Lowe, and John Sturgeon Mackay. His obituary, written by his friend J B Clark, appeared in RSE Year Book 1946, 17-18.