Frank Willis Butler, president and chief executive officer of Catalina Yachts, passed away November 15 in Westlake Village, Calif., due to unexpected complications from a recent illness. He was born in 1928 in California and during his career, Catalina built more than 85,000 sailboats.
Butler started building boats in 1962 when he contracted with a Southern California builder for a 21’ (6.4m) daysailer. The builder couldn’t finish the boat, so he gave Butler the tooling. He finished the boat and found he enjoyed the process.
A few years later, Butler founded Catalina Yachts, which became the largest builder of fiberglass production sailboats in the United States. A key to Butler’s success was his attention to his customers. He handled warranty issues himself and it’s said that Catalina yacht owners were often surprised to get a personal call from Butler to discuss their concerns.
In a statement on the Catalina Yachts website, Butler wrote “When I founded Catalina Yachts in 1970, my goal was not to become the largest sailboat builder in the United States. My goal was, and still is, to build good boats that are a good value for our customers.”
The statement continued, “Accomplishing this requires planning, efficient manufacturing (a part of the process I particularly enjoy) and well-designed boats. I believe Catalinas do well in a very competitive market because they are the result of listening carefully to our customers and dealers. When we design a new boat, we don’t try to reinvent the wheel each time. We incorporate proven features with new ideas and a lot of boatowners’ suggestions. This gives the line continuity, helps us avoid overly trendy styling and insures good resale value for Catalina owners.”
Accolades and Achievements
Butler was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2013. In recognition of his support of the Congressional Cup, a world match racing event, Long Beach Yacht club awarded him the Crimson Blazer. He also founded and was a lifelong member of the Westlake Yacht Club in Westlake Village, Calif.
Following his graduation from Glendale, Calif., high school Butler served in the United States Navy. He met his wife Jean, at a school dance and they recently celebrated their 71st anniversary.
Butler is survived by Jean, their four daughters, Deborah Reese, Mary Linn, Nancy Bear and Karen Butler; three sons, David, Robert and Steve, 20 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.