As one of the early founders of the town of Grayton Beach, Van Ness Butler Jr., who died in February, is fondly remembered as a visionary. He not only recognized South Walton for its sophisticated beauty and charm, he was also one of the first of many Butlers to take an active role in the community.
In 1922, the Van Ness Butler family bought most of what is now Grayton Beach to start a resort project. The family built and rented cottages, sold an occasional lot, and operated the town’s general store and dance hall. What was once the old Butler Store is now the iconic Red Bar restaurant in Grayton Beach.
Butler lived and worked in Grayton Beach for the majority of his life. He was not only devoted to the betterment of South Walton, he was also devoted to helping others. He served on the Regional Utilities board, the Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative (CHELCO) board and, following his grandfather’s legacy, served as the first chairman of the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) as interim executive director for two years.
In 2003, the Walton County TDC established the annual Van Ness Butler Jr., Hospitality Award to encourage and recognize excellence in hospitality service, travel/tourism marketing, advertising, promotion, and contributions to the local community. The award honors the legacy of service embodied by the Van Ness Butler family through their passion, determination and energy. They truly defined Grayton Beach and set the stage for the tourism industry. This award also honors the
Florida Tourism Hall of Fame inductees and pioneers of Walton County’s hospitality and tourism industries.
“Van Ness was an outstanding leader in our community and was able to act as a bridge between our progressive ideas and the natural conservatism of the people he had grown up with,” says Robert Davis, founder of Seaside and 2007 Van Ness Butler, Jr. Award recipient.
Butler was a devoted member of the TDC for more than 13 years. During that time he implemented a number of projects dedicated to beach nourishment and destination improvement. He is credited for acquiring the land for the first of many beach accesses in South Walton and was the first to suggest the TDC hire a beach maintenance crew. He is also responsible for the construction of the 30A bike path.
“There will be many proposals to name roads, bridges, etc. after him,” Davis adds. “We will miss him.”