Sam is a Australian sheep dog and Mattie is a border collie....

Mattie, a furry black dog, and Sam, a brown and white mix, stare out the sliding glass window of a houseboat docked in Alameda's Woodbarn Marina. At every sound, Mattie perks up her ears and Sam runs hopefully to the front porch before sighing and returning to his spot on the hardwood floor.

Their owner, Dr. Robert Butts died Friday at 52 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

He was a pediatrician with Alameda Pediatricians Associates and Children's Hospital Oakland. Friends and neighbors say that for nearly 20 years, he was a well-loved doctor who put his whole heart into taking care of his young patients.

"He was a doctor from the heart," said Vanessa Navarro, office manager at Butts' practice. "Everything he did came from within. It wasn't about the money or anything else. He was just there to reach out to the kids and their parents."

After graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Butts spent time traveling the world, eventually settling in Alameda in the late '80s. He would visit exotic locales, even spending a few years teaching in Hawaii, but always found his way back to the town he loved.

"When he finished college, he came out here," said Betsy Keller, Butts' sister. "It was where he wanted to be. He just loved this area so much."

As a pediatrician, he treated hundreds of Alameda's children, but he also had a profound impact on their parents.


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Rosa Montes Goldberg, whose children were patients of Butts, remembers him as being a doctor with a passion for his patients as well as having an amazing sense of humor.

After her daughter's open heart surgery, Butts was right by her side.

"She's lying in the bed with all the machines going and I'm crying," Goldberg said. "He comes up to me and says, 'By tomorrow night, she'll be running down the hallway so much you'll be wishing she was still strapped down.' He used humor in an appropriate way to let you know everything was going to be OK."

Butts' illness prompted many Alameda residents to let him know how much he meant to them. In the weeks before he died, he received two baskets full of cards and letters and several hundred people posted notes for him on his online journal.

"He didn't realize how much he meant to people," Keller said. "But that's just how he was. It wasn't about him, it was about other people."

Butts' work with the community also allowed him to pursue his other eclectic interests and the things he loved.

"He had a lot of passions," Keller said. "He loved medicine and helping kids, but he also had an insatiable thirst for learning, he read voraciously, he loved to travel, he loved different cultures, he loved his dogs, he loved his houseboat and he loved this area.

"He went above and beyond," she said. "He never stopped. He made people feel good about themselves."

A memorial service for Butts is being planned. For updates, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/robertbuttsmd.