The Day Op Ed: 'Rodney Butler: 2019 Citizen of the Year'

This Op Ed appeared in The Day on May 17, 2019.

The Mashantucket Pequots are a proud people with a history filled with challenges. They have a reason to be particularly proud today because the leader who is directing them through today’s challenges, Rodney Butler, will be recognized tonight by the chamber of commerce and the community it represents as citizen of the year.

The recipient of the 69th Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut Citizen of the Year Award is a product of the 21st-century Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. After graduating from the University of Connecticut with a degree in finance, Butler joined the tribal-owned Foxwoods Resort Casino as a financial analyst and within a few years was chairing the Tribal Business Advisory Board.

Rodney Butler stands out amongst a new generation of tribal leaders who took advantage of the business model their predecessors built, receiving the education and training necessary to contribute to the family business.

Butler was only 32 when he was elected chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council in 2010. The decade he has led the tribe since has seen new obstacles to overcome for a tribal people with a history of them. Foxwoods has faced growing competition from gaming in other states and is tested by legacy debt tied to the rapid expansion of the prior era.

Personally, Butler has seen his own challenges expand, assuming the role of president and CEO of Foxwoods in July 2018 following the sudden, unexpected death of Felix Rappaport, which shocked the tribe and casino team.

Colleagues say Butler faces these challenges with a quiet confidence and positive attitude that reassures those around him. Butler has helped to forge a new relationship with the Mohegan Tribal Nation, leading to plans to jointly develop a satellite casino in East Windsor to confront new competition, maintain Connecticut jobs and continue the gaming revenue that flows to the state of Connecticut. He has led efforts to diversify the entertainment options available to those visiting Foxwoods.

Remarkably, and in keeping with the honor he receives today, Rodney Butler continues to find time to give back to his community despite the many pressing matters he confronts. His volunteer roles include chairman of the board for the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, a director at Mystic Aquarium, a member of the Lawrence + Memorial Community Hospital Council, and a trustee at Roger Williams University.

Fittingly for tonight’s award dinner, held of course at the Foxwoods Resort Casino Grand Ballroom, attendees are asked, in honor of Rodney’s chairmanship at United Way and the chamber’s support for his summer food drive, to bring a nonperishable food item to donate. The food drive is meant to ensure the pantries and soup kitchens serving the region’s needy remain stocked during the vacation season.

Butler pointed out that his own volunteer efforts are indicative of the tribe and of the 6,500-strong Foxwoods workforce. Both the Mashantucket Pequots and the Foxwoods Resort workforce are strong community supporters, making eastern Connecticut a better place through their donations, charity events, food drives and in-kind contributions.

“Receiving this award is not just about me,” Butler said when learning that he was the 2019 recipient. “Although I get to be at the helm at the moment and be recognized for it, success is measured by our willingness to be part of something bigger than ourselves and make a positive difference for future generations. That’s what we’ve strived for at Mashantucket, and I’m truly humbled and honored to have carried the weight of my responsibilities at such a pivotal time in our tribe’s history.”

The Day joins the chamber and the eastern Connecticut community in congratulating Rodney Butler as the well-deserving recipient of the Citizen of the Year Award.