September 16, 20168:19 PM ET

Edward Albee, the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? among many others, died Friday at the age of 88 following a short illness, according to his longtime personal assistant.

Albee didn’t particularly like it when people asked him what his plays were “about.” As he wrote in a 2007 letter to the audience of Me, Myself and I, that question made him “become uncooperative — and occasionally downright hostile.” Albee acknowledged that his plays could be “occasionally complex” but were “infrequently opaque.” The best way to enjoy them, he advised, was without any baggage. “Pretend you’re at the first play you’ve ever seen,” he suggested. “Have that experience — and I think ‘what the play is about’ will reveal itself quite readily.”

Albee was adopted as an infant but didn’t have a good relationship with his adoptive parents. “We didn’t belong in the same family,” he said. He’s pictured above circa 1967 in England, where the Royal Shakespeare Company was performing his play A Delicate Balance.


Albee’s plays have challenged, engaged and, at times, confounded audiences since he first burst upon the scene in 1960 with The Zoo Story — an unsettling and, ultimately, shocking encounter between two men in Central Park.

Ben Brantley, chief theater critic of The New York Times, thinks Albee was one of the great American dramatists. “Is there anyone else who dares to take on questions that are that big?” Brantley asks. “I’m not talking about questions of politics or immediate topical issues. Edward Albee asks questions — the most basic existential questions — he confronts death, he confronts sex with, I think, eyes that remain very wide open.”

Despite his protests, when we discussed his plays, Albee let this slip out:

“You know, if anybody wants me to say it, in one sentence, what my plays are about: They’re about the nature of identity,” he said. “Who we are, how we permit ourselves to be viewed, how we permit ourselves to view ourselves, how we practice identity or lack of identity.”

Albee’s questioning of identity came from a deep personal place. He was adopted, as an infant, by Reed and Frances Albee — his father ran a chain of vaudeville theaters — and his relationship with them was chilly.

“These people who adopted me I didn’t like very much and they didn’t like me very much, I don’t think,” Albee said. “We didn’t belong in the same family.”

But it did become grist for his mill. The late Marian Seldes starred in several Albee plays — including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Three Tall Women, a play all about Albee’s adoptive mother.

Seldes said that as an actress, she appreciated Albee’s precise, grammatically expressive language.

Albee, shown here in 1995, won Pulitzer Prizes for A Delicate Balance, Seascape and Three Tall Women and Tony awards for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

“I feel it’s like a piece of music, a musical score,” she said. “I think Edward’s punctuation — the ellipses, the number of periods, of dots after a line — if you allow it to go into you, as you would if you were going to sing, you would follow what he suggests.”

Regardless of the style and the language of each play, Brantley says, Albee displayed a rigorous clarity of purpose.

Brantley says Albee believed that “theater should hold up a mirror to society — but not just a mimetic mirror — not just to show us what we have, but to show us what’s beneath, what’s to the side; to force us to look at things from another perspective.”

Indeed, Albee said it was his mission.

“All art should be useful,” he said. “If it’s merely decorative, it’s a waste of time. You know, if you’re going to spend a couple of hours of your life listening to string quartets or being at plays or going to a museum and looking at paintings, something should happen to you. You should be changed.”

Edward Albee in 2012: “All of my plays are about people missing the boat, closing down too young, coming to the end of their lives with regret at things not done.” Credit Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times




Updated 4:44 pm, Thursday, September 15, 2016

Howard E. Butt Jr., the brother of H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt and the oldest son of the grocery chain’s namesake founder Howard E. Butt Sr., died Sunday at his home in San Antonio due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 89.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of my brother, Howard,” Charles Butt said in a statement. “His decades of inspired leadership, philanthropy and humanitarian efforts will forever be missed by our family and those he impacted across the U.S.”

Howard Butt Jr. is best known to the public as the evangelistic member of Butt family and as the folksy, comforting voice of one-minute radio spots titled, “The High Calling of Our Daily Work.”

He operated the H.E. Butt Foundation, established in 1933 as one of the state’s earliest and largest philanthropic foundations. He also ran Laity Lodge, an ecumenical Christian retreat center in the Hill Country.

Born in Kerrville, Texas, on Sept. 8, 1927, Butt grew up in the grocery business founded by his grandmother, Florence, in 1905. He attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, graduated in 1947 with a degree in business, and soon afterward married his longtime sweetheart, Barbara Dan Gerber.

Howard Butt Jr. was one of five family members who owns the family fortune, an estate estimated at $11 billion in value by Forbes magazine, similar in size with New York’s Rockefeller family.

In addition to his brother Charles, Howard Butt Jr. is survived by his sister, Eleanor Butt Crook, a former schoolteacher who became a public education advocate and a world hunger activist; his wife Barbara Dan; his daughter Deborah Dan Rogers, who runs the H.E. Butt Foundation with her husband David Rogers; his sons, Howard Butt III, who heads the grocery chain’s Mexico division, and his wife Pamela and Stephen Butt, who runs Central Market, and his wife Susan.

He is also survived by eight grandchildren, Howard IV and wife Kristen, Hillary and husband Tom, and Jeffery (Alexandra) Butt; Sarah and Shelby Butt; and Katherine, Alexandra, and Jackson Rogers; and one great-granddaughter, Charley Butt.

Howard Butt Jr. was initially groomed to run the grocery chain, having worked in stores since age 7. He delivered groceries, became a checker at 12 and then a relief store manager. By 1948, he managed his own store.

He was drawn, however, to the Christian youth movement in the 1940s while attending Baylor University and combined his business career with a second calling as a lay minister preaching at revivals and speaking nationally. The burden was excessive, he has previously said, and differences with his parents over his career path plunged Howard Butt Jr. into a decade-long depression.

“I had been living my whole life with Dad wanting me to be part of the company,” he said in a 1996 interview. Howard Butt Jr. was candid about his depression and eventually sought help, which he said “was very suspect in the whole Texas culture and even more so in the Baptist culture. There were family members that didn’t even know.”

Howard Butt Jr. wrote about his bout with depression in a 1996 book titled, “Renewing America’s Soul: A Spiritual Psychology for Home, Work and Nation.”

A conversation with his younger brother, Charles, resolved the problem.

“In a sudden exhibition of grace in my life,” Howard Butt Jr. said in a 2007 interview, “my brother, Charles, and I talked about our dreams. I dreamed of doing something long-term in lay renewal. Charles dreamed of doing great things in the grocery business.”

Howard Butt Jr. left the day-to-day operation of the grocery company and stepped into the vice chairmanship of H-E-B and chaired the H.E. Butt Foundation. Charles Butt eventually succeeded his father as H-E-B president in 1971 and chairman of the company in 1984.

“Charles has an enormous gift for business, and he wanted to exercise that, and I’m so proud of the way he’s made H-E-B such a wonderful corporate citizen,” Howard Butt Jr. said in 1996.

The H.E. Butt Foundation was first operated by Howard Butt Jr.’s mother, Mary Holdsworth Butt. It is a separate entity from the H-E-B grocery chain. It operates programs ranging from free camps for disadvantaged children at a ranch along the Frio River to faith-based retreats for groups of people at Laity Lodge near Leakey, which opened in 1961. The foundation has helped build several hospitals, libraries and other philanthropic projects throughout South Texas.

Howard Butt Jr. became foundation president in 1982. In 2013, the foundation built Headwaters, a family camping facility.

The foundation expanded along with Howard Butt Jr.’s ministry. He spoke at an early National Prayer Breakfast during the Eisenhower Administration. He was a board member of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and a founding board member of Christianity Today magazine. President John F. Kennedy appointed Howard Butt Jr. to the first Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.

“Howard’s success in lay renewal has been worldwide. He’s been a catalyst for lay involvement in all denominations,” the late Rev. Buckner Fanning said in 2007. Fanning, the longtime minister at Trinity Baptist Church, and Howard Butt Jr. were friends for nearly seven decades.

In 2000, Howard Butt Jr. started “The High Calling of Our Daily Life,” a series of one-minute radio-spot homilies that were written weekly and often cited extraordinary successes of ordinary individuals who kept their faith involved in their careers, relationships and daily lives.

Howard Butt Jr. won several awards. In 2000, the National Conference for Community and Justice honored him for leadership in serving the San Antonio community. In 2004, he received the first Newport Foundation Leadership Award for his work on bridging the secular and religious worlds.

In 2005, he was presented the Outstanding Citizenship Award by the San Antonio Community of Churches.

Remembrances may be sent to the Friends of The H.E. Butt Foundation, P. O. Box 290670, Kerrville, Texas 78029-0670. A memorial service celebrating the life and witness of Howard E. Butt, Jr., will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Trinity Baptist Church, 319 E. Mulberry Ave., San Antonio, Texas 78212. The Porter Loring Mortuary is assisting the family with arrangements.




Julio Gonzalez, center, in a Bronx courtroom in July 1990. He was sentenced to 87 concurrent sentences of 25 years. Credit Pool photo by Michael Schwartz

Julio Gonzalez, a jilted lover whose arson revenge at the unlicensed Happy Land nightclub in the Bronx in 1990 claimed 87 lives, making him the nation’s worst single mass murderer at the time, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Plattsburgh, N.Y., where he had been taken from prison. He was 61.

The cause was apparently a heart attack, prison officials said.

Mr. Gonzalez had been at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., where he was serving 87 concurrent sentences of 25 years to life in prison after being convicted of starting the fire, which swept through the club early on March 25, 1990, a Sunday.

At the time, the club, on the second floor of a run-down building on Southern Boulevard in the East Tremont neighborhood, was crowded, mostly with Honduran immigrants celebrating Carnival. Only six people escaped.

Happy Land was found to have lacked fire exits, alarms and sprinklers. It had been ordered closed in November 1988, and its operators were facing eviction.

The fire occurred 79 years to the day after 146 garment workers — many of them young immigrants, too — died in a fire at the Triangle shirt factory in Lower Manhattan, a calamity that awakened New Yorkers to oppressive and dangerous work conditions and fire hazards in many parts of the city.

That climate of widespread violations and lax enforcement was noted by the sentencing judge, Justice Burton B. Roberts of State Supreme Court in the Bronx. “There are many to be blamed” for the fire, he said, “not just Julio Gonzalez.”

Mr. Gonzalez was born in Holguín, a city in Oriente Province in Cuba, on Oct. 10, 1954. He served three years in prison in the 1970s for deserting the Cuban Army. In 1980, when he was 25, he joined what became known as the Mariel boatlift, an effort organized by Cuban-Americans and agreed to by the Cuban government that brought thousands of Cuban asylum-seekers to the United States.

It was later learned that many of the refugees had been released from jails and mental hospitals. Mr. Gonzalez was said to have faked a criminal record as a drug dealer to help him gain passage.

Landing in Florida, he traveled to Wisconsin and Arkansas before arriving in New York, sponsored by the American Council for Nationalities in Manhattan, which linked newcomers with relatives. Corrections officials said they had no information on Mr. Gonzalez’s survivors.

Mr. Gonzalez had just lost his job at a Queens lamp warehouse when he showed up at Happy Land. There he argued heatedly with his girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, about their six-year on-again, off-again relationship and about her quitting as a coat checker at the club. Around 3 a.m., a bouncer ejected him.

The Happy Land club in the Bronx was found to have lacked fire exits, alarms and sprinklers. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

According to testimony, Mr. Gonzalez walked three blocks to an Amoco service station, where he found an empty one-gallon container and bought $1 worth of gasoline from an attendant he knew there. He returned to the club. Upstairs, a disc jockey had just spun the reggae tune “Young Lover,” by Cocoa Tea.

Mr. Gonzalez splashed the gasoline at the bottom of a rickety staircase, the club’s only means of exit, and ignited it. Then he went home and fell asleep.

By the time firefighters arrived, the victims’ screams had largely subsided. Bodies were piled in the stairwell and on the second floor. Most of the clubgoers had suffocated from the smoke or had been trampled trying to escape.

“I got angry, the devil got to me, and I set the fire,” he told detectives.

He pleaded not guilty but was declared sane and tried before Justice Roberts, who imposed the sentence on Sept. 19, 1991.

The 87 concurrent prison terms formed the maximum allowable sentence, which was described then as the longest ever handed down in New York.

“The maximum of 25 years to life doesn’t nearly reach the level of premeditation involved in this crime,” Robert T. Johnson, the Bronx district attorney, said.

Some spectators in the Bronx courtroom also found the sentence insufficient.

“It wasn’t enough; I wanted the death sentence,” said Maria Colon, who sat with her daughter Maria, 14, and her son Ramon, 11, clutching a bouquet of violets and roses for her husband, Ramon, who had died in the fire. “I wanted him to be there with the 87 people who died.”

The Happy Land inferno left some 90 children as orphans. More than 40 parents lost sons or daughters. Five of the victims were students at nearby Theodore Roosevelt High School.

The site of the fire was renamed the Plaza of the Eighty-Seven. The fire itself was commemorated in the songs “Sin of the City” by Duran Duran, “Happyland” by Joe Jackson and “You, Me, Him, and Her” by Jay Z.

Mr. Gonzalez would have been eligible to apply for a parole hearing in November. He became eligible for the first time in March 2015. During a video conference-call interview at the time, he said he had not realized how many people were inside Happy Land that night, that he had nothing against them and that his anger had been directed at the bouncer.

“He told me he was going to hit me,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “And I told him I was going to leave, but I was coming back.”


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