By Sarah Kuper
So far in his life, Britt Butler has served in WWII, worked as a Jefferson County reserve deputy sheriff and mentored dozens of Boy Scouts.
He also served as one of the founding fathers of today’s Southern Living magazine.
Butler’s grandfather ran a publication called the Progressive Farmer in the early 1900s. In an effort to engage city dwellers, Progressive Farmer developed a secondary publication in 1966 and called it Southern Living.
Like his grandfather and his father, Butler worked at Progressive Farmer and helped found the new Southern Living publication.
“It was modeled after a California magazine called Sunset. There were things in Southern Living that appealed to men and women,” Butler said, “There was even a sports section back then.”
The magazine was sold to Time Inc. in 1985.
Now, Britt Butler enjoys a quiet life on the banks of the Cahaba River in Vestavia Hills.
His home sits almost a mile off the road with barely another house in site. From his wraparound deck he can study the wildlife and watch the river flow – a river he helped save.
Since his time as a Boy Scout leader, Butler has understood and respected the need for water.
“I went on a hike once with the group and it turned out we didn’t have enough water. I haven’t forgotten that,” he said.
After the sale of Southern Living, Butler began to dedicate more of his life to environmental activism, especially Alabama’s waterways.
In 1988, Butler started a non-profit foundation called ABAHAC, which is Cahaba spelled backward. From this foundation, the Cahaba River Society was born.
The foundation initially used money to help support a lawsuit the CRS filed over sewage draining into the Cahaba River. Courts ruled in the society’s favor and since then, the CRS has continued to help improve state and local stormwater regulations along with other clean water and healthy ecosystem initiatives.
“Before all this there was no way in Alabama you could put land in protection, they hadn’t started the conservation easement or Freshwater Land Trust,” Butler said, “The Cahaba River Society has been a part of all that.”
ABAHAC has also been a financial resource to a growing number of other natural resource preservation groups all over Alabama and into Tennessee.
Though Butler doesn’t like to crow too loudly about his generosity, he does estimate that he has given at least $3 million to preservation organizations since ABAHAC’s inception in 1988.
Butler will announce recipients of this year’s donations at an upcoming luncheon.
Additionally, local businesses are getting behind Butler’s vision by supporting the Cahaba River Society through fundraisers.
Tonya Jones Salon has a goal to raise at least $18,000 for the society through a silent auction and party on April 21 as part of the Jazz with Civitas event in English Village.
English Village merchants such as Monkees and Jordan Alexander will feature specials and Gallery 1930 will host an art show as part of the event.
Though Butler is proud of the work he has done in Birmingham through his family’s publication company, it is his passion for nature that has him contributing to Alabama in a more tangible way.
As for the lifestyle magazine’s 50th anniversary this year, Butler said he is enjoying the attention the magazine brings to Birmingham, but some things have definitely changed.
“It’s much more of a women’s magazine now. It’s a good cookbook,” he said. “Of course, I’m still very proud of its success.”