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Spirit of Acadiana: The Lost Interview with Tom Butcher

Thomas Patrick Butcher
Posted at 5:59 PM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 16:19:37-04

LAFAYETTE, La. — His name was Thomas Patrick Butcher.

“Otherwise known at Butcher Air Conditioning,” he said, “as the ‘old man’ or ‘Pop’.”

I found some notes and video—long-forgotten and believed lost—from August 2018, and I knew there was some Lafayette history and life-lessons that needed to be shared.

Question: What was business like back in 1950? What was the air conditioning business like?

“Well, there was none,” said Butcher rather quickly.

“There were no air conditioners in houses back in 1949; I think a few on Jefferson Street, Antler’s Billiard Parlor had one where the alumni center is now,” he recalled. “The first air conditioner, my daddy put that one in 1937; the first air conditioner in a house in Lafayette and it ran for a long time.”

What began with Tom’s father and uncles as Butcher Refrigeration quickly evolved as the need to be cool increased.

“The air conditioner business grew so much that we got out of the commercial refrigeration business and strictly stuck to air conditioning and heating.”

In the old days, there was Butcher and just a few others installing A/C’s, but now.

“Well, there’s competition, more and more competition,” he said.

Butcher remains a family business, with Tom’s son Bobby running the retail side of things and son Johnny overseeing the wholesale division, which has five offices across the Gulf Coast.

Tom went into the Broussard office nearly every day, and I wondered aloud how family business disputes were settled.

“They have some disagreements every now and then, but it’s amicable and they talk it out.”

He paused for a second, then followed through with a classic saying.

“You don’t want to mess up the pie with the recipe.”

Seventy years or so in business had me wondering about something else. Longevity. What is Butcher Air Conditioning doing right?

It wasn’t rocket science, explained Butcher.

“Well, it’s cliché’, but you gotta be honest and treat people like you like to be treated. Plus, you should figure the customers are nearly always right.”

Then, there’s the iconic commercial that I heard nearly every morning on the radio as I drove (or was driven) to elementary and high school.

It was iconic, I told Tom Butcher.

“Yeh, that’s what they say.”

We tried singing it. “It’s safe to buy…” but neither knew all the words, though we did have the tune nailed pretty well. But I did receive some praise on that day. “You know it better than me,” laughed Tom.

Butcher, who died Monday at the age of 93, had no regrets, he said.

“Everything was good, times were good. And times are still good, I’m enjoying myself.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Tom.

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