Military Buff Was Fast With a Joke

December 28, 2001

Tom Butler was a uniformed police officer, working the corner of 114th Street and Atlantic Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens, in the summer of 1987. That's where Martha Butler got off the bus after work, and where she first saw her future husband.

"It was love at first sight," she said. "I asked him a question about getting somewhere, and that's how we met."

After running into each other a few more times, the two went out for a slice of pizza. By 1993, they were married and living in their own house in Smithtown. Butler became a firefighter 12 years ago, and the couple has three children: Sean, 6, Kelly, 4, and Patrick, 9 months.

"He always said I fell in love with him because of the uniform," his wife said, but she said it was his "baby face," his friendly demeanor and the way he made her laugh.

The relationship was a case of "opposites attract." She was the serious one, and he was always ready with a joke, playing off what others said to create funny new meanings.

Butler, 37, was a military history buff, making models of planes and boats and dragging her through museums and historic sites. "It would make his hair stand up," his wife said. "And me, I'd be like 'OK, let's go.'"

And, when it came to dispositions, his wife was the worrywart. "He never worried," she said. "He was the one who was like, 'Don't worry about it. Let's just do it.'"

But the two had a great deal in common, too. Both loved the outdoors - biking, running, hiking, skiing, diving, "any kind of sport," his wife said.

They had the same adventurous spirit and the same dream - to buy a boat and sail around the Florida Keys. "We had it all mapped out," his wife said. "The kids would have to track us down, rather than the other way round. Like, 'Where's Mom and Dad this month?'"

Before they became parents, the couple traveled together to Hawaii and Florida and took ski trips to Pennsylvania. But after they had the children, money was tight. Still, she said, it was important to both of them that their children experience the thrill of adventure. So they arranged camping and fishing trips, days at the beach, "things that didn't involve money."

Butler was planning a trip to Disney World and hoped to take the family skiing this winter and to Lake George next summer.

"Now it was going to be us plus the kids doing adventurous stuff," his wife said. That plan changed when Butler was lost in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, along with eight others from Squad 1, Park Slope, Brooklyn. He was believed to be in Tower Two, his wife said.

Even with her husband gone, she said, "I'd like to do all those things that we had planned to do in the beginning ... It's just going to be a little harder, because of him not being here."

-- Indrani Sen (Newsday)