Butler was a big Maryland booster, a bigger friend to many
Before the University of Maryland played Notre Dame last week, the basketball team entered the court wearing warmups featuring a patch with the letters “MB” on them to honor Mark Butler, the CEO of Ollie’s Bargain Outlets, who died suddenly Dec. 1 at the age of 61.
Butler never went to Maryland; in fact, he used to brag about the fact that he didn’t go to college. But he became one of the school’s most influential boosters over a near 30-year period, and his death left the school’s athletic department in mourning.
“I’ve been in this business a long time, and I’ve met a lot of supporters of programs,” said Athletic Director Damon Evans. “Mark is so unique and so special. He touched so many people.”
Butler had a role in the sports business. He was chairman of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and was frequently rumored as a potential buyer of the Orioles. In 2015, he bought the Harrisburg Senators, the Washington Nationals’ Class AA affiliate.
He also donated millions to help build practice facilities for Maryland’s football and basketball teams. But when contacted last week, everyone associated with Maryland’s athletic department wanted to talk about Butler as a friend and a confidant more than as a booster.
Butler, who had long been a fan of Maryland basketball, first got associated with the university’s athletic department in 1993. Former assistant coach Jimmy Patsos recalls sitting in the basketball office with head coach Gary Williams the day after Christmas, eating Chinese food, when Butler called looking for tickets to an upcoming game against Hofstra.
Patsos, who also was a bartender at a Georgetown bar called Third Edition, gave Butler and his family a tour of the facilities and took them out to eat at a restaurant near campus.
Patsos told Butler that, as a bartender, he operated under the credo that you never know when your next customer becomes your next regular.
Butler responded by saying, “I’m your next regular.”
He became a fixture sitting courtside at Maryland games and formed deep relationships as he became more involved in the university.
“He was down to earth,” said Walt Williams, who played for the Terps in the early 1990s and now works on their radio telecasts. “You would never know how wealthy he was by being around him. He treated everyone with genuine kindness.”
Basketball coach Mark Turgeon said he frequently leaned on Butler for advice and found him to be a great supporter when things looked bleak.
Butler took Turgeon to a World Series game on Oct. 25 at Nationals Park, a Friday night. The next day, Butler came to an open practice.
Turgeon remembers that his team did not play well during that practice, so he was not in a great mood.
“I saw him and told him that I loved him,” Turgeon said. “I’m so happy I was able to say that one last time."