TMA Honors Austin Physician With Distinguished Service Award

May 18, 2013

Ernest Butler’s parents, both teachers, embraced curiosity and encouraged a desire to learn from an early age. That passion for learning took the boy on a path that led to a career in medicine. Today, Ernest C. Butler, MD, of Austin, received Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) highest physician honor for his contributions to the medical community and to the community at large.

Dr. Butler, a retired otolaryngologist, received the 2013 Distinguished Service Award today during TMA’s annual conference in San Antonio.

Dr. Butler admits he was taken aback and surprised to receive the award. But it comes as no surprise to those who have worked with him through the years, which includes 20 years as a practicing physician.

C. Bruce Malone, MD, of Austin, who presented the award before a packed room of physicians, said, “Ernie is not only a colleague, but a friend and mentor. It’s been a privilege to witness him turn his vision, tenacity, and high standards into lasting achievements that are impacting the lives of millions.”

In 2003, Dr. Butler and his wife, Sarah, established the Ernest and Sarah Butler Endowment for Excellence in Science Teaching at the TMA Foundation (TMAF), the philanthropic arm of TMA, to help fund and attract additional philanthropic support for TMA’s Science Teacher Awards program.

The awards program, now named after the Butlers, began in 1998 to demonstrate organized medicine’s value of science and innovative teaching in inspiring students to consider medicine and other science-related fields of study. Each year, TMA recognizes elementary, middle, and high school science teachers who creatively and inventively share their enthusiasm for science with their students. This year’s top winners were honored yesterday at TMA’s annual conference.

TMAF President G. Sealy Massingill, MD, said, “The Butlers are visionaries who have generously invested in creating a healthy future. They also inspire others to join them in making a lasting impact on our state.”

Physicians and others in medical careers realize the importance of science education, said Dr. Butler. He said he is proud to work with TMA to help engage the public in valuing science and to ensure this recognition of science teachers continues for years to come. 

“We need to acknowledge those who help children discover their abilities and who encourage them to develop those abilities,” said Dr. Butler. “When children realize their abilities early on, they are better poised to make a contribution to the world.”

Through the years, Dr. Butler and his wife have had the privilege of visiting some of the winning teachers in their classrooms. “It’s a joy to see how the students respond to a great teacher,” he said. A monetary award also goes to the winners’ school, and Dr. Butler and his wife were pleased to see the microscopes Austinite Heather Flemming, a recent recipient, had purchased for every study desk in her classroom.

The Travis County Medical Society (TCMS) nominated Dr. Butler for the honor. TCMS President Michelle Berger, MD, said, “Dr. Butler’s history of distinguished service to organized medicine is long. We believe the award is a fitting recognition of Dr. Butler’s service, achievement, and contributions to medicine in the community.”

Dr. Butler was a founding partner of the Austin Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic in 1969, which currently has 12 otolaryngologists including his son, Robert Butler, MD. In 1971, the elder Dr. Butler founded Acoustic Systems, a company that manufactures booths for hearing tests, musical practice, and broadcasting. He served as its board chair until the company sold in 2002.

Dr. Butler is a past secretary-treasurer of the Travis CMS. He also helped found the Texas Medical Foundation, now the TMF Health Quality Institute, and the Central Texas Medical Foundation.

Dr. Butler has been a TMA member since 1963. He has served as trustee and past treasurer of the TMA Foundation Board of Trustees and now is an advisory council member.
Catherine L. Scholl, MD, of Austin, a former president of the Travis CMS and a board member of the TMA Foundation, said, “An exemplary physician is one who not only cares for his patients, but also the community at large. No one embodies this definition better than Ernie Butler.”

Beyond their interest in science, Dr. Butler and his wife are long-time, dedicated supporters of fine and performing arts at The University of Texas at Austin and within the city of Austin. They were inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame in 2004 for their support as friends and advocates of the arts and received the Texas Medal of the Arts in 2011 from the Texas Cultural Trust.

The UT School of Music was renamed the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music in 2008, following the couple’s 25 years of philanthropic support to the school. The Austin Symphony Butler Pops Series brings popular music accompanied by the classic symphony orchestra. Sarah Butler, board chair of Ballet Austin, has helped bring the dance company’s new home, the Butler Dance Education Center, to downtown Austin as well as its preprofessional training program.

Other organizations that benefit from their generosity include the Austin Lyric Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Long Center for the Performing Arts, Austin Museum of Art, Texas Memorial Museum, and Blanton Museum of Art.

Dr. Butler has established a legacy that will live on in his community and beyond.

“TMA celebrates the many contributions Ernie and Sarah Butler have made to truly ‘Improve the Health of all Texans.’ As an entrepreneur and physician, he has been able to contribute incredible resources to support our science teaching awards,” said Dr. Malone.

Dr. Butler received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in 1962. Following that, he completed his internship at Ben Taub Hospital in Houston and completed his residency at the Baylor Otolaryngology Program.

He served as a caption in the U.S. Air Force from 1967 to 1969, stationed at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois.

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 47,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 112 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans. 

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Contact: Pam Udall (512) 370-1382; cell: (512) 413-6807; email: pam.udall@texmed.org
Brent Annear (512) 370-1381; cell: (512) 656-7320; email: brent.annear@texmed.org  

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