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 the community.
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 Hospital.
“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 Appreciation Day.’
“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.