Rodney Butler named chamber’s Citizen of the Year
Waterford — The Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut on Monday announced Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council and interim CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino, as its 69th Citizen of the Year.
The honor comes seven months after the death of Foxwoods CEO Felix Rappaport, from heart disease.
“That was a horrible, sudden death, but Rodney stepped up to the plate,” Chamber President and CEO Tony Sheridan said, adding, “The man is not afraid to work.”
The award is presented annually to someone “who has made outstanding strides on behalf of the civic and business community,” the Chamber said in a news release.
The selection committee begins the process by opening nominations, with a focus on what people have done above and beyond their jobs, Chairwoman Angela V. Arnold said. Arnold received the honor in 2009, and recipients in the years since are Keith Fontaine, Bill Turner, Grace Jones, Alice Fitzpatrick, Maria Miranda, Mitchell Etess, Neil Ryan and Scott Gladstone, Mary Lenzini and Louis Ziegler.
Butler will be honored at a dinner at Foxwoods on May 17.
Chamber representatives went to Butler’s office last week to share the news – and Butler said it took him a minute to realize the gathering of people, which included his own team, wasn’t for his birthday.
A self-described “quiet kid” who was focused on academics throughout his time at Montville High School and the University of Connecticut, where he played defensive back on the UConn Huskies football team, Butler didn’t see his life unfolding the way it did. He studied finance in college but didn’t expect to end up in politics and tribal leadership.
Now, he said he views his role with the principles of leading by example and treating others the way you want to be treated.
Rising from chairman of the tribe’s Business Advisory Board, Butler was elected to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council in 2003. After winning a third term in 2009, he was elected chairman.
The time since has seen much expansion of Foxwoods beyond gaming, including the opening of Tanger Outlets, Foxwoods Thrill Tower, a zipline and an indoor karting track.
Butler also entered a partnership with Mohegan Tribal Council Chairman Kevin Brown on plans for a third casino in Connecticut, which has brought them together in front of the state legislature many times.
“Without this man by my side, I would probably get myself in trouble, because he exhibits a degree of grace in his ability to just embrace whoever he’s talking to,” Brown said. “It doesn’t matter if the person is asking an absurd question. He keeps himself centered.”
Brown recalled a time when he was formulating a response to a question and felt Butler’s hand on his shoulder.
“I do consider this man my brother from another mother,” Brown said.
Butler’s cousin Jean Swift began working with him in 2010, which she said has made her a more confident professional and a better citizen. When Swift thinks of Butler’s personality and his approach to his roles, what comes to mind is an image of him in full regalia, smiling as he stoops down to talk with children in the Little Fox Dancers.
Through a slot revenue sharing agreement, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has contributed more than $4 billion to the state coffers since 1993.
Outside of Foxwoods, Butler has spent the past decade on the board of United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, of which he is now chairman. In the past, he was awarded its Inspiration Award and served as co-chairman of its campaign, helping to increase the number of donors.
He also serves on the boards of Mystic Aquarium, which launched an alliance with Foxwoods in 2011, and Roger Williams University.
In 2017, the Native American Finance Officers’ Association named Butler Tribal Leader of the Year, and last year, Enders Island Retreat Center awarded him the St. Edmund’s Medal of Honor award.