Catto’s legacy lives on through life’s work
December 20, 2011
ASPEN – Henry Catto Jr., a longtime Woody Creeker, passed away Sunday at his home in San Antonio following complications from leukemia. He was 81.
He was born in Dallas on Dec. 6, 1930. Though a native Texan, he lived in Woody Creek part time.
Catto spent many years working for the federal government in a wide array of leadership roles, mostly dealing with foreign countries. After growing up in Texas, he earned a degree in American history from Williams College in Massachusetts.
Catto was involved in politics from an early age and was considered a rare Republican in the Lone Star State for his time. Beginning in the 1950s, he helped to build a two-party system in Texas, which was then dominated by Democrats.
In 1958, Catto married Jessica Hobby, the daughter of an influential Democratic governor in Texas. They were married for 52 years, and she died in 2009. They had four children: two sons and two daughters.
Catto spent summers and Christmases in Woody Creek.
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“He and Jessica visited Colorado Springs in 1963 and drove over Independence Pass to visit Aspen, which they’d heard about from a friend,” said John Catto, one of Henry’s sons. “They were hooked.”
Isa Shaw, Catto’s daughter and a resident of Woody Creek, said her father “loved the Woody Creek Tavern, the Music Tent, Meadows, Carl’s, Explore Booksellers and hanging out on his ranch.”
Shaw added that Catto was a courtly and gracious person with a dry sense of humor.
He twice ran for the Texas Legislature in 1960 and 1961 as part of the first Republican ticket. He lost both times but wasn’t going to get out of politics.
He was hired to his first major role in government when President Richard Nixon gave him a job as deputy representative to the Organization of American States. He later took the job as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador.
Catto was named chief of protocol to the White House and State Department under the Ford administration, working in Washington, D.C., and then later as U.S. ambassador to the European offices of the United Nations in Geneva.
After holding other government positions, he was hired by President George H.W. Bush, a fellow Texan and friend, to head the U.S. Information Agency, a program that used various media and other tactics to deliver information about U.S. policy to foreigners. But before he would head that department, he was asked to be the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James’s in London – a title his daughter Shaw said was his proudest moment.
Catto opened his home in 1990 in Woody Creek to President Bush and Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom. This meeting became known as the Woody Creek Summit and was where the two leaders discussed plans to initiate the first Gulf War. During the meeting, Thatcher was quoted as saying, “This is no time to go wobbly, George.”
Other than enjoying summers and holidays in Aspen, Catto also left a permanent mark here with other programs. At the time of his death, he was vice chairman of The Aspen Institute, where he and his wife established the Catto Fellowship for a Sustainable Future.
“Henry was the embodiment of the Aspen idea,” said Amy Margerum, executive vice president of operations at the Institute. “He embraced all opinions, was continually learning, loved and supported young new leaders, dealt with tough issues with a mixture of wit and wisdom, was always a gentleman and walked his talk.”
The Aspen Institute’s website said that just last week, Catto donated $500,000 to help continue his fellowship, which aims to help fellows “develop new insights about themselves, the role of leadership and the need for effective collaborative action to ensure the well-being of the environment.”
“Henry’s lasting legacy will be the fellowship Henry and Jessica started for young leaders in the environmental field,” Margerum said.
Catto also was a strong supporter of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. He and his wife provided funds to preserve both the ACES Rock Bottom Ranch and Toklat locations.
“Henry Catto, along with the rest of the Catto family, have long been dear friends of ACES,” said Jeff Berkus, ACES board president. “The Catto family has been ongoing supporters of ACES’ mission, in particular with the Catto Center at Toklat and the Jessica Catto Leadership Dialogues, which Henry established in memory of his wife, Jessica.”
Berkus said ACES will continue to work to preserve Catto and his wife’s legacy.
Catto also was made an honorary Pitkin County sheriff by former Sheriff Bob Braudis.
His memoirs are titled “Ambassadors at Sea: The High and Low Adventures of a Diplomat,” published in 1998. He recounted many stories from his work in government.
In lieu of sending flowers, Catto’s family asks that contributions be made to either the Aspen Community Foundation or the San Antonio Area Foundation. A memorial will be held Jan. 7 at 1 p.m. at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio. It is not yet known if another service will be held in Colorado.
John Catto said his father was “good looking, hardworking, bright and patriotic. He always had a kind word for others, no matter their station in life.”