Gil worked for more than 30 years at the Voice of America, the nation’s largest public-funded international broadcaster.
He was 86 years old.
Distinguished VOA correspondent Butler passed away on Oct. 10 at his home in Waldorf, Maryland. During his years at the Voice, from 1978 until his retirement well into the 21st century, his accurate, objective, and comprehensive reporting reflected much of the world.
He was stationed in or filed on scene accounts from Cairo, Beirut, Beijing, London, and the U.S. State and Defense Departments, covering 68 countries for more than three decades.
During his overseas reporting, Gil served as president of the London Foreign Correspondents’ Association following in the footsteps of Edward R. Murrow, Drew Middleton, and Ray Scherer.
At the Voice’s 40th anniversary celebration in 1982, Gil Butler received the coveted VOA Meritorious Honor Award for his reporting from Cairo covering the assassination of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat.
Tributes to Gil Butler
During my years as VOA’s News and Current Affairs chief, I recall those many morning prep sessions brightened by Gil’s sense of humor and insight and his wisdom about breaking news.
As veteran retired VOA correspondent Dan Robinson put in an October 19 tribute: “Gil was one of the major VOA broadcasting figures and mentored many younger reporters over the years. In addition to his coverage of the Sadat assassination, he covered numerous stories around the globe. I will always remember having the honor of being with Gil in Cambodia in the 1990s when we covered a U.N.-sponsored election there — he was always the professional, and after hours, kept many of us entertained with his many stories from a long career in broadcasting.”
Dai Pham, a last-day evacuee from Vietnam well known as P.T., a distinguished Vietnamese correspondent in the 1960s and early 1970s and later 20-year veteran in VOA central news recalls:
“Gil was one of the best journalists VOA ever had. He also was a good friend to everyone. I miss him very much.”
A sample of Gil’s reporting
An account by Gil on January 30, 1998, is an illustration of his quest for balance in all his reporting:
“This year’s human rights on China summary is the longest of the 194 country reports. It says there were positive steps in PRC on human rights, although serious problems remain.
Among the positive steps: a somewhat more tolerant attitude toward dissent, moves toward the rule of law, and signing a U.N. covenant on economic, social and cultural rights.”
Gil’s readout continues, quoting then U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy and Human Rights John Shattuck as saying: “These changes need to be in context… there has been no change in the past year, nor would one expect to have been one over the course of a year. Promoting human rights in China is a long-term one.”
Since 1998, there have been some improvements. Yet the latest U.S. State Department annual report minces no words and reflects Butler’s prophetic words:
“Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during 2020 against the Uighurs and other ethnic and religious groups in Zinjiang (northern China). These crimes were continuing and include arbitrary imprisonment of more than a million civilians, torture of a large number of those detained, and draconian restrictions on religious freedom and freedom of expression and movement.”
Gil Butler called it more than two decades ago in his insightful reporting of global affairs.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More