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Tuesday, November 14, 2023
4:00 - 6:00 pm (Eastern time)
Wednesday, November 15, 2023
2:00 - 3:00 pm (Eastern time)
After a long and productive life, enriched by countless adventures with his treasured family and friends, Wayland Henry Cato, Jr., 100, died peacefully on November 4, 2023.
He will be remembered as a consummate gentleman known for his thoughtful manner and style by the communities in which he lived and to which he enthusiastically contributed. He was a visionary man of exceptional standards who possessed an insatiable curiosity for all that life offered him.
Even in the final years he was forward-looking always, and Mr. Cato embraced every new challenge with enthusiasm, reveling in new interests. Always open-minded, he was an avid reader who challenged himself to know and understand new ideas and the world around him, even learning to use an iPhone 13 in his late nineties.Born in Ridge Spring, South Carolina on March 23, 1923, he grew up in Bath, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia where he was graduated from Richmond Academy. In 1944 he was graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Science degree in Commerce and a commission in the U.S. Navy. After attending the Naval Mine Warfare School, he proudly served as the commanding officer of a minesweeper assigned to patrolling the entrance to San Francisco Bay during World War II.
Returning from the war, he married his late wife and mother of their eight children, Margaret Boutt Cato. He was a deeply committed father who prized creating opportunities for his children throughout his life.
In 1946 in Charlotte, NC, he and his father co-founded The Cato Corporation, a retail women’s fashion apparel store chain. His vision, business acumen and corporate leadership yielded great success. The company now operates over 1,240 stores in 32 states.
Throughout his life, Mr. Cato remained profoundly reverent of land and open spaces. Intent on demonstrating these values to his children, in the early 1950s he moved his growing family to what was then rural Mecklenburg County, south of Charlotte, and for many years ran a working farm so that his children could experience the adventures he had as a child. A horseback rider from the age of two, he instilled the same passion to his children. He reluctantly gave up riding at the age of 88. A lifelong hunter, he cherished memories of a big game safari in Africa in the 1950s, of polar bears in Alaska, bird hunting in South America, and game hunts with his children in the American West.
Always fit and athletic, he pursued many sports with his large family throughout his life including skiing, golf, polo and sailing. At the age of 80, he purchased a sailboat on which he intended to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. He was an ardent swimmer and never missed a day in the pool.
After 65 years as the head of the Cato operation, he returned to his native South Carolina and in 1992 Mr. Cato purchased a c.1800 house in downtown Charleston, which he meticulously restored to its original state, to be his home. In 1998 he married Marion Rivers Ravenel Cato of Charleston, who has been his devoted companion for 25 years in their joy-filled days surrounded by friends and family in Charleston, Wyoming and while traveling.
Eager to fulfill his dream of owning a cattle ranch in the West, he purchased land near Sheridan, Wyoming at age 78 where he operated a working Black Angus cattle ranch, restoring an 1876 historical ranch property, the PK Ranch on Soldier Creek. At its peak the Cato Ranch grew to almost 90,000 acres with 2,200 cow calf pairs.
In 2003 Mr. Cato rescued the architecturally significant c.1816 William Alston House which had fallen into dangerous and unstable condition. With the help of experts in historic preservation, he dismantled the structure and rebuilt the house on property he owned on the Cooper River in Berkeley County, restoring it to its original glory. All of his projects have been recognized by local and national preservation groups for the quality of their rescue, rehabilitation, and restoration.An ardent believer in the value of education, as well as in the transformative power of affording opportunities to new generations, in the late 1990s, he founded the Wayland Henry Cato Jr. Foundation whose primary mission is the endowment of scholarship funds at institutions of higher education in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wyoming. The Foundation has established endowed scholarships at 38 educational institutions and contributed to other non-profit organizations.
As a decades-long civic leader who engaged energetically with his community, Mr. Cato served on many non-profit and for-profit boards and was particularly active as treasurer of Spoleto Festival, USA for fourteen years; the Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art; the Hollings Cancer Center at MUSC; and the College of Charleston Foundation. For many years he served on the board of directors of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He was board chair of First Charlotte Bank, and a member of the Charlotte City Advisory Board of Nations Bank, now Bank of America. He was a board member on both the N.C. and National Retail Merchants Associations.
In recognition of his philanthropic support of the arts and education, Mr. Cato was recognized along with his beloved wife Marion with the naming of several gardens and facilities in Charleston and elsewhere. These include the garden at Spoleto Festival headquarters; the College of Charleston School of the Arts Building; a courtyard at Ashley Hall; and a terrace at Converse College, Mrs. Cato’s alma mater.
During his life, Mr. Cato received numerous honors, including The Order of the Long Leaf Pine and The Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian award of North Carolina and South Carolina, respectively; honorary degrees from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the College of Charleston and Presbyterian College. He was inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame, received the Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year in 2005, and was the recipient of Central Piedmont Community College’s Distinguished Service Award and the Leadership Award of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. He was a member of The Society of Colonial Wars, South Carolina chapter.
In addition to his wife, Marion, he is survived by his children and grandchildren, whom he loved dearly and was most proud: daughters, Clarice Cato Goodyear and Catherine Cato (Gene Ehmann); sons, John Cato (Jane), Thomas Cato (Marti), Joseph C. Cato (Larisa); seven grandchildren, Wayland H. Cato IV (Jennifer Bogart), Wayland H. Cato V, David Cato (Meade Carey), Joseph Cato (Andrew Alexander), Alexander Cato (Cecelia Sullivan), Eliza Cato (Gabe Stuart), and Henry A. Cato; daughters-in-law Rhonda Cato and Lisa Cato.
He was predeceased by his parents Wayland Henry Cato, Sr. and Annie Marshall Derham Cato; his first wife Margaret; infant daughter Margaret Louise Cato; two sons, Wayland H. Cato III and Henry Pickens Cato II; younger brother Edgar Thomas Cato; and son-in-law James Dent Goodyear.
The family will receive visitors at the Carolina Yacht Club from 4 to 6 PM on Tuesday, November 14, 2023. The funeral service will be held at 2 PM on Wednesday, November 15, 2023 at St. Philip’s Church. Burial will be private. Arrangements by J. Henry Stuhr, Inc. Downtown Chapel.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to the Wayland Henry Cato Jr. Foundation, 13777 Ballantyne Corporate Place, Suite 300, Charlotte, NC 28277 or to an educational or charitable institution of your choice.