Tribute to Elizabeth Butler
I have the good fortune to lead a great company—Opportunity Fund. Anyone who has ever been part of a great company knows that you can’t build one alone. The early years of building a company are in many ways the hardest, but they are also very special times. I had the honor, and the good luck, to share those times with a very special person—Elizabeth Butler. I hired Elizabeth in 1996, just after she graduated from UC Santa Cruz, as the second official employee at what was then called Lenders for Community Development. She was bright, funny, a bit shy (at first), spoke good Spanish, and was willing to take on just about any job. I was a bit discouraged, lonely, and impatient with the pace of getting things done at our little startup. Elizabeth was just what Opportunity Fund, and I, needed. She was great with our clients, full of ingenuity, and she kept me laughing. Her original title was “Executive Assistant,” which is pretty funny in retrospect, given that we only had two employees. In reality, she was our first Communications Director, our first HR Director, and our first CFO.
Elizabeth was the mastermind behind our “Million Dollar Party,” which we threw in 1998 to celebrate our first $1 million in microloans. I know Elizabeth would be thrilled to know that these days we are lending out $1 million a month to small businesses. We would never be where we are today without her. I wouldn’t have stuck it out without her high spirits and passionate devotion to our clients and our mission. And we wouldn’t have been able to hire and keep the other amazing co-workers that joined us after Elizabeth. I could go on and on about the quality of her work. But I remember her even more for her spirit and her compassion. Opportunity Fund is a company that cares about its people, and Elizabeth set the tone from the beginning. I remember back in 2000 we had an employee who, unbeknownst to any of us, experienced a period of homelessness. Elizabeth was the first to find out, and she invited our troubled colleague to come and stay at her apartment until she got resettled. She did things like that a lot.
By the time Elizabeth left us, she was an ace Small Business Loan Officer, and got hired by Wells Fargo. But she didn’t like working at a large corporation, and she decided to train to become a police officer in Santa Cruz. It was a surprising move, but it ultimately made a lot of sense. She loved police work, and from all I hear she was really good at it.
Last week, Elizabeth and her partner Loran Baker were gunned down in the line of duty. They were the first two police officers ever killed on the job in Santa Cruz, and they were shot by someone who should never been allowed to possess a gun. So now Elizabeth is the latest high-profile victim of our national epidemic of senseless gun violence. Her death is one of the most tragic things I can imagine. Right now the grief is overwhelming. But I want her family to know that she left a beautiful legacy behind her, and she touched many, many lives in the best possible way. Her spirit of caring and fun is alive and well at the company she helped to build.
Eric Weaver and Elizabeth Butler, circa 1995.