Butler leaves legacy

Nancy Butler at Matkatamiba in the Grand Canyon

SOUTH FORK — Nancy Butler walked through this world with determination, grace and gratitude. She walked on from this world on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. She was at her home in South Fork with her husband Lee Carpenter and her sisters Julie Butler and Laura Butler Embleton.

She is also survived by her brother-in-law Dale Embleton and niece Emily Embleton; adopted family Ljiljana, Jelena and Irena Subotić; stepson Chris Carpenter, his partner Megan Fowler and granddaughter Skylar Jade Carpenter.

A native of Colorado, Nancy was born in Englewood in 1967 and grew up in Littleton. She attended Arapahoe High School and graduated from the University of Colorado with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.

Her life of service started early, working with immigrant families in Denver, taking a service trip to Mexico during spring break while in college. She did volunteer programs in Ireland and Germany before spending two years in the Peace Corps in Suceava, Romania. Her love of travel took her to far flung places including Namibia, India, Nepal, Belize, Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Peru, Slovakia, Croatia, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Austria, France, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Hawaii, Alaska, all over the continental United States and Antarctica.

Colorado was always in her heart though, and she walked through some of the state’s most beautiful places, including a solo trip along the entire Colorado Trail. Butler climbed many of Colorado’s hills and mountains over years of exploration. So, when she met fellow Coloradoan Lee Carpenter, while both were working the season in Antarctica in 2000, she came back to make a new home in South Fork.

Once Butler landed in the San Luis Valley, she soon became the executive director of the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) in 2002. In this role she emerged as one of the Valley’s and Colorado’s most respected and effective conservation leaders. The small team of staff and board at RiGHT had big dreams for conservation along the Rio Grande and across the Valley. In partnership with many landowners, conservation organizations, and generous funders, Nancy leaves a legacy of conserved ranches in every county of the San Luis Valley, and through RIGHT’s Rio Grande Initiative, over 27,000 acres of the Rio Grande and Conejos River corridors are protected.

Butler served on statewide committees with the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, represented Colorado at meetings in Washington D.C., and was widely respected in the conservation community across Colorado and beyond. She was honored for her work with the Friends of Open Space award from the Palmer Land Trust in 2014. RiGHT received the Phil James Conservation Award from the Colorado Nature Conservancy in 2011 for the long-standing partnership between the two organizations in achieving conservation goals for the San Luis Valley. RiGHT was also honored as an Awards for Excellence Outstanding Non-profit Organization by the El Pomar Foundation in 2013.

Nancy’s service extended beyond conservation as well. She also contributed greatly to the foster care needs of the San Luis Valley. She and Lee Carpenter spent five years as foster parents for three beloved foster children and provided a temporary home to many other children in need. They also hosted a foreign exchange student and many visitors from around the world in their home on the Rio Grande.


Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, Nancy Butler truly never let that slow her down, living life on her terms. As a long-time survivor, she showed many that in spite of cancer, life can be full of joy and adventure. A maker of lists, Nancy made a list of all the possible new experiences she could manage, including sky diving with her niece Emily and zip lining over the Royal Gorge (all this past year!) She aspired to do as many new things each year as the age she was, and joyfully reported on those adventures to friends and family.


Nancy inspired everyone from friends to strangers (many of whom quickly became friends), especially with her gratitude for everything and every opportunity, including the over 170 chemo treatments that extended her life for so long and for Dr. Dev Paul, her stalwart oncologist at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. As an expression of that, a few years ago, she had a Tibetan gratitude symbol tattooed on her shoulder and number of family members and friends also got this tattoo in her honor.


Nancy continued her world travels and adventures, rafting many western rivers with Lee and friends, from local day trips on the Rio Grande to the full Grand Canyon, other sections of the Colorado, the San Juan, Arkansas, the Chama, the Rogue, the Salmon and more.


As a beloved member of the San Luis Valley Community, Nancy Butler’s legacy will last for generations. She will always be remembered for the beauty and working lands she helped to protect, for her relentless positivity and integrity that guided every choice she made, and for her truly amazing work ethic and dedication to a better future for the Valley and Colorado. Nancy was fair, honest, witty, and strong; a great leader and an even better friend. She kept her focus on the blessings of life, and being grateful, especially during the hardest times. In the coming weeks her family and friends will strive to follow Nancy’s example and stay positive through the grief. She left those who knew and loved her with so many happy memories and a protected Rio Grande to be forever thankful for.

A celebration of Nancy‘s life will be held at the Ruth Marie Community Center at 575 Columbia Avenue in Del Norte on Saturday, December 14th at 4 pm. The memorial will be followed by a potluck meal and all are welcome to come honor this exceptional friend and community leader. A celebration will also be held in the Denver area in January, with the time and place to be determined. Friends are welcome to visit Nancy’s Facebook page and share in the many remembrances and photos of her life there.

In honor of Nancy’s life‘s work in conservation, donations in her memory can be made to the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust at www.riograndelandtrust.org or mailed to PO Box 444, Del Norte, CO 81132.

Nancy’s parting words to her friends and community are a perfect expression how she lived her life: “Postpone nothing.”


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