‘Mayor of Stuy Town,’ Butch Purcell, dies at 74
Purcell with the plaque at the Stuyvesant Town playground named in his honor.
BY GABE HERMAN
John “Butch” Purcell, a basketball coach and beloved
member of the Stuyvesant Town community, died
on Jan. 12 at age 74.
Purcell was affectionately known as the ‘Mayor of
Stuy Town,’ and moved into the Stuyvesant Town-Peter
Cooper Village community with his wife Mary in the
1960s after the complex was desegregated. He made
the basketball courts there a second home of sorts,
coaching, mentoring, and making friends throughout
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Purcell coached at Harlem’s legendary Rucker Park
Tournament during the last 25 years, winning two
championships there. Over the years, he also coached
an estimated 75 players who went on to play in the NBA
and ABA, most notably Julius “Dr. J” Irving.
On Sept. 25, 2019, Playground 9 in Stuyvesant Town
was named in Purcell’s honor. The ceremony drew hundreds
of people, and speakers included local officials
and friends from the basketball world, including Earl
“The Pearl” Monroe. Monroe joked with Purcell about
their days playing college basketball in North Carolina,
Purcell at North Carolina Central University and Monroe
at Winston-Salem State.
Purcell earned degrees from North Carolina Central
University and Long Island University, and worked for
decades as a substance abuse counselor at Beth Israel
“I’m deeply saddened by the loss of Butch Purcell,
a New York City legend who spent his life working on
behalf of his community,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman
in a statement to this paper. At the playground
dedication ceremony in September, Hoylman presented
Purcell with a plaque declaring that day ‘Butch Purcell
“His life touched so many of his fellow New Yorkers,”
Hoylman added, “whether it was through his work as a
substance abuse prevention advocate or the athletes he
coached on the basketball court.
“After his years of service and dedication, it’s no surprise
he earned the well-deserved nickname ‘The Mayor
of Stuy Town.’ It was an honor to join Butch and the
Stuy Town community last fall to dedicate a community
playground in his honor — what a fitting tribute to a
man who loved his community and his city so deeply.
They really don’t make them like Butch anymore. I will
miss him greatly.”
“He was a guy who was always so full of life,” Monroe
told the NY Post after Purcell’s death. “He knew
everybody. If he knew you had a problem and needed
someone to talk to, he was that guy.”
Purcell is survived by his wife Mary and son John IV.
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or call 311 for more information.
10 January 23, 2020 Schneps Media