Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

When most folks retire, they take up new leisure practices to fill their days. Some play golf; others engage in gardening; still others become chefs. The list is ongoing. Basil Boteler did not fit into any of those descriptions. Rather than simply retiring, he segued into a new occupation. He became a professional poker player.

Basil was the scion of an old Georgetown family in the original heart of Washington. He grew up on 31st Street, which to Washingtonians means east of Wisconsin Avenue: a significant societal distinction. He graduated from Western High School, after which he matriculated at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Initially, in his retirement years Basil moved to Mississippi, where he pursued his new profession at the casinos. He was a mathematical whiz and gifted with a memory far greater than most of us. As a result, he could remember each card that had been played, calculate the odds for playing his own hand, and then rake in the chips. For Basil, the experience was both fun and highly profitable.

Having relatives in the area, he decided to move to the Northern Neck nearly 10 years ago. He lived first in Kilmarnock, then was joined here by his friend, Cynthia Desmond. Together they enjoyed taking long cruises to various spots around the world. Again, for Basil, the cruise was relaxing, but also work.

In the evenings, he would go to the casinos to play his round of poker. Seeing this nonagenarian sitting down at the table, the dealers thought they would be doing well. Were they ever wrong? Every time, Basil would, as Cynthia noted, “clean their clocks.” Upon returning to port, Basil had made the cost of the entire trip, simply by knowing “when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em.”

Three years ago, Basil, joined by Cynthia, decided to move to a gated community in Florida to be closer to Cynthia’s children who had gravitated there. They liked the neighborhood within their compound, but they found the traffic beyond the gates annoying and frustrating, perhaps too reminiscent of Northern Virginia. 

After a year there, they came back to the Northern Neck, this time settling in White Stone. All of the activity attendant to their moves came about when Basil was well into his 90s. Previously, he had suffered through a couple of bouts with cancer, recovering each time to begin life again.

Poker clearly was an important part of Basil’s senior years, but not at all his sole focus. He was an avid reader of a wide spectrum of literature, and an excellent researcher, fully capable to using the internet to his best advantage. Both through his life experience and his constant study of the past, Basil was a living source of the history of Georgetown. He personally knew the old families, who they were and where they lived, and he liked to speak of the way the city was before it was discovered by “the beautiful people.”

Basil’s library of fine books was impressive, and from his family he had inherited documents and writings of significant historical interest. He had one of the only three extant, complete sets of “The Olio,” a newspaper published in Georgetown for two years beginning in 1800, which he had sold recently. Rare books and documents were not mere artifacts for Basil; they were sources of knowledge from which he could learn more about the world at large, and Georgetown in particular.

Upon his return to the Northern Neck after a visit to Florida earlier this year, Basil’s health declined, and last month he died at his home. His was a model of a good life well lived. He never seemed to be at an advanced age, and he continued to live as if he were a youngster. He remained all his years at the peak of youth.

Basil Boteler, October 19, 1926–May 25, 2021. R.I.P.