Henry E. Catto Jr.
December 20, 2011
Henry Edward Catto Jr., distinguished diplomat, businessman and philanthropist, and proud Woody Creeker, died on December 18 at his home in San Antonio, Texas. He was 81. The cause of death, as he liked to say, was mostly living so long – plus complications from leukemia. He is survived by daughter Heather Catto Kohout of Austin, Texas; son John Hobby Catto of Basalt, Colo.; son William Halsell Catto of Chevy Chase, Md.; daughter Isa Catto Shaw of Woody Creek, Colo.; and 11 grandchildren. His wife of 52 years, Jessica Hobby Catto, preceded him in death in 2009.
Henry Catto was born in Dallas, Texas, on Dec. 6, 1930, to Henry E. Catto Sr., and Maurine Halsell Catto. He graduated from the Texas Military Institute and Williams College, with a degree in American history, and after college joined his father and uncle in an insurance brokerage, Catto and Catto, in San Antonio. A rare Lone Star Republican, he became interested in politics in the late 1950s, specifically in building a two-party system in Texas. He also became interested in Jessica Hobby. They married in 1958, and Catto stuck to his politics even though his father-in-law, William Hobby, was a beloved former Democratic governor of Texas. He ran as part of the first Republican legislative ticket in Bexar County in 1960 and again in 1961, and lost both times, as was usual for Texas Republicans in those days. This was also about the time that the Catto clan began spending time in Aspen.
Following his electoral misfortune, Catto embraced an American political custom, which is to ask for a job from the president, who sometimes grants the wish on the condition that the candidate leave the country. In keeping with that custom, President Nixon named Catto first as deputy representative to the Organization of American States, then as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. He eventually brought him back to Washington as chief of protocol to the White House and State Department. President Ford asked him to go to Geneva as U.S. ambassador to the European offices of the United Nations. During the Carter administration, Catto was a consultant in Washington. After the revival of Republican fortunes in 1981, he served as assistant secretary of defense, where his considerable charm and good humor were tested when he had to explain how a toilet seat could cost the government $600.
In 1988, President George H. W. Bush, a longtime friend, asked Catto to go to London as U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. After two productive years there, President Bush asked him to return to Washington to head the U.S. Information Agency. Throughout their years in the Washington political and social scenes the Cattos amassed numerous lifelong friends in politics, policy and the media.
In 1993, the Cattos returned to a life divided between San Antonio and their Woody Creek ranch. He wrote a memoir, “Ambassadors at Sea: The High and Low Adventures of a Diplomat,” in which he recounted everything from taking Japan’s Emperor Hirohito to Disneyland to welcoming Duke Ellington to the American embassy in El Salvador to hosting George Bush (the elder) and Margaret Thatcher in Woody Creek, where they decided to launch the first Gulf War. He taught public diplomacy at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and in 1999 became the chairman of the Atlantic Council of the United States, a public policy group in Washington. He received an honorary doctorate of laws from Aberdeen University, as well as one from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, and was a corporate director of Cullen-Frost Bankers, National Public Radio, and numerous civic organizations in Texas and Aspen.
At the time of his death, he was vice chairman of The Aspen Institute, and he and Jessica established the Catto Fellowship for a Sustainable Future at the Institute. They also were major supporters of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, providing essential funds to preserve Rock Bottom Ranch and Toklat as ACES facilities. Few things in his extraordinary life thrilled him as much as being made an honorary Pitkin County sheriff by former sheriff Bob Braudis. He was a longtime supporter of numerous arts organizations, including the Aspen Music Festival and School, the San Antonio Symphony, the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Witte Museum in San Antonio.
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Catto radiated courtliness and kindness and treated everyone he met with respect and courtesy. He relished conversation both personally and professionally and believed in the power of discourse as a path forward. Today’s politics horrified him.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the Jessica and Henry Catto Memorial Fund at the Aspen Community Foundation, 110 East Hallam St., Suite 126, Aspen, CO 81611, (970) 925-9300 or at the San Antonio Area Foundation, 110 Broadway, Suite 230, San Antonio, Texas 78205, (210) 225-2243. For information on pending funeral arrangements, contact Judith Weathers at: Judith@woodycreekmanagement.com.
In life, always prompt; now, forever, the late Henry Catto.