Tributes are flowing for one of western Queensland’s favourite sons, Graham “Butch” Lenton, who passed away at Winton on Sunday.
Butch, aged 61, had been battling cancer for the past two years.
“Visionary” is the word used by Greg Hallam, the CEO of the Local Government Association of Queensland and long-time personal friend, to describe the man who led his community towards a future fuelled as much by tourism, renewable energy and telecommunications as by strong rural industries.
“He was a down-to-earth mechanic with a vision for what his community could be and he made it happen,” Mr Hallam said.
Such was his legacy as a councillor and a mayor that the LGAQ will offer a $10,000 Butch Lenton Memorial Bush Councils innovation award annually from next year, in his memory.
He was first elected to the Winton Shire Council in 1997, serving as a councillor until 2004, then as deputy mayor to 2008, before being elected mayor in 2012.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Winton could not have had a more dedicated or passionate representative.
“Politics calls people from all walks of life to serve their community,” she said.
"Butch was quintessentially Winton; he was born, educated, married, worked, elected and, sadly yesterday, he died there.
“When Cabinet meets on Tuesday, I will ask ministers to endorse a motion of condolence to his wife Ros, their family, friends and the people of Winton and central west Queensland.”
Butch’s uncle, Eric Lenton, also died in office, in September 1995.
Mr Hallam said it was usual to say good things about people when they died but it was all being said about Butch long before that.
“He led his community through the burning down of the Waltzing Matilda Centre, yes, but now instead of a $6m facility they will have a $22m one, thanks to Butch.
“Winton will soon be the first community in Australia to have a geothermal power plant connected to the grid, and his work round wifi connectivity has been extraordinary.
“If he had lived another six months, he would have seen those projects to fruition.”
The Member for Mount Isa, Rob Katter said he was not sure he’d come across another mayor who embodied his town the way Butch did.
“He lived for rugby league and his family and friends and had a deep sense of service to his community,” Mr Katter said.
“Butch saw the good in everyone and his relationships with government were behind the goals he kicked.”
He recalled a recent conversation, in which someone suggested that Butch come up with a bucket list.
“He said, ‘I don’t need to – I’ve done everything I’ve wanted, I’ve had a great life’.
“He had such a wonderful life in Winton and lived in the place he loved all his life, and in a short sentence I couldn’t sum it up any better than that.”
Butch attended the Winton State School until grade 10, going on to complete a motor mechanic apprenticeship at the Winton Shire Council workshop before starting his own small business.
He was known as a keen motorcycle rider, having raced and ridden them from a young age, including riding across the Simpson Desert.
Rugby League was another of his passions, having been the president of the Winton Rugby League for 22 years, and serving as the Central West Rugby League president.
The film community is also mourning the loss of Butch, who was the chairman of the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival.
Speaking on behalf of the group, creative director Greg Dolgopolov said there would always be a seat reserved for Butch at their meetings.
“We want to assure his family and his community that we will be working to ensure his incredible legacy lives on,” Dr Dolgopolov said. “His passing has stirred emotions across the film industry, with students from the Griffith Film School and the University of New South Wales sharing their condolences today.”
Butch is survived by his wife Ros, daughter Carly and grandchildren Ethan and Lindsay. Butch and Ros’s youngest daughter Lindsay passed away at the age of eight, in 1995. She was born with spina bifida.
Queensland Country Life will advise when funeral details become known.