Ploughshares logo

Honoring the Life and Legacy of Lewis H. Butler (April 1927 – May 2024)

With great sadness we announce the passing of Lewis (Lew) H. Butler, founding board chair of Ploughshares. He passed away peacefully on May 24, 2024. He was 97 years old.
Born and raised in San Francisco, Lew was an ardent advocate and generous philanthropist who worked tirelessly for a better San Francisco and a better world. Following his service in the US Navy, Lew led a formidable professional life of service as an environmental lawyer, as one of the first leaders and long-time consultants for the US Peace Corps, and as a civic leader – serving as Assistant Secretary to the Department of Health Education and Welfare (now HHS) and participated in creating the Environmental Protection Agency.
His philanthropic legacy was no less impressive. Lew was a founding board member of Ploughshares and served as board chair for 24-years, from 1981 to 2005. He was a trusted advisor and confidant of founder Sally Lilienthal. Under Lew’s leadership and guidance Ploughshares grew from an idea born in Sally’s living room into an influential organization leading the way to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons. As Rachel Pike quoted Sally in her 2019 tribute to Lew, “I think none of this would have happened except for the fact that Lew was so tremendously active in getting us started. Not with dollars but with creative good sense. I truly think he didn’t even consider that this would be more than a small organization, a local affair.”
Lew was deeply committed to nurturing the next generation of leaders including those working to reduce nuclear threats. With a special legacy gift to Ploughshares, Lew helped established the Roger L. Hale Fellowship – an annual fellowship for emerging leaders in the nuclear field. True to his humble nature, Lew demurred in having the fellowship named after him and instead asked that it be named after his successor on the board, Roger L. Hale.
Additionally, Lew co-founded the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Institute of Health Policy Studies; he founded California Tomorrow; he co-founded the Butler Koshland Fellowship; and he was a leading voice for the conversion of the former Presidio military base to a civilian park. He served on the boards of the Rosenberg Foundation, The John Hay Whitney Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation and was a generous supporter of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, SF General Hospital, the UC Berkeley Library, among others.
Ploughshares extends our deepest condolences to Lew’s family including his daughters Lucy Butler and Serra Butler Simbeck, and grandchildren Elena Butler, Tobias Butler, Nicolas Simbeck, Andres Simbeck, and Emilio Simbeck.
You can watch a moving tribute in 2019 to Lew Butler by Rachel Pike (granddaughter of Ploughshares founder Sally Lilienthal). Gifts can be made to Ploughshares in memory of Lew Butler here.