CUMBERLAND, R.I. (WPRI) — His funeral was private, but Bob Butler’s friends couldn’t let him go without gathering to say good bye.
“Take up my yoke, and learn from me,” Father Brazel sang under the blazing sun.
He was Butler’s family priest and he delivered a memorial service on Sunday in front of about 50 of the his closest friends. Butler passed away at the age of 43 on July 6, and was laid to rest by the state at Resurrection Cemetery in Cumberland.
“It moved me so deeply to see somebody who was really trapped within his body,” Brazel said during the brief ceremony.
He’d talked with Bob countless times as he struggled most of his life with his weight.
“But now that I see all of you,” the father said. “I know what he meant by his friends.”
There were tears and memories from mourners like Dawn Jakeman, who organized the memorial service and is leading a fundraising effort to buy a headstone for the grave.
“There are so many things I could say,” Jakeman said when asked what we didn’t know about Butler, who made headlines around the world over the past few months for his weight.
Jakeman grew up with Bob.
“He had an amazing spirit,” she said. “You could talk to Bobby for five minutes and not even notice he had a weight problem.”
His good friend John Mancini delivered a tearful eulogy.
“There will never ever be another Robert Wayne Butler,” Mancini said. “And I’ll never forget him. I love you Bobby. We all do.’
‘I’ll do whatever they need me to do, to get out of these four walls, to see the sun, not through my blinds.” Robert Butler – 2006
You met Butler on television about a decade ago. At the time, he was searching for a surgeon who would conduct a stomach operation to help him lose weight. He also needed help to cover the cost.
“Everything I do is based in this room,” Butler said at the time. “This house, this is my prison.”
He needed to lose a few hundred pounds at the time to get the operation, but he was willing to take a chance if a doctor would agree to do the procedure.
“I’m willing to die on that operating table instead of dying in this bed,” he said.
He did die in a hospital bed from complications related to a sepsis infection. Butler had expressed optimism when he was moved to the Eleanor Slater Hospital in April, saying he hoped he would get help to fight his addiction to food.
“I believe it truly was an addiction,” Jakeman said. “Absolutely, He did make an attempt to lose weight. He did try.”
Another mourner recalled how Butler had reduced his weight down to 600 pounds years ago, but couldn’t keep it down. After the memorial service, Robert’s friends gathered handfuls of soil from his grave, and latter released it in the Blackstone River where they enjoyed better times with their friends.
“We were there so much as teenagers,” Jakeman said. “We’d play music, hang out, sometimes stay there into the morning.”
Jakeman and many other friends are frustrated Robert’s life ended at 43, but they say they’ll never forget him.
“His smile. His jokes. His personality,” Jakeman said. “It didn’t matter what kind of pain he was in or what struggles he had. When you came to visit him, he always was in a great mood. And I think that’s what we’re gong to miss the most.
Butler’s burial was paid for by the state, but Jakeman hopes friends and others will help pay for a headstone.
“He deserves that,” she said.