Jessica Hobby Catto
October 5, 2009
Jessica Hobby Catto, noted conservationist, journalist and Democratic stalwart, died on Sept. 30, 2009, after a lengthy battle with colon cancer. Her powerful spirit and humor, love of family and desire to keep fighting for causes she considered vital kept her thriving far beyond her original prognosis, and she died at her beloved ranch in Woody Creek. She was 72.Mrs. Catto reveled in the earth’s beauty and was intent on preserving it. As a member of the Chairman’s Council of Conservation International and the boards of directors of the National Parks Conservation Association, World Resources Institute, the Conservation Fund and the Environmental Defense Fund, her environmental work and philanthropy spanned decades and continents. Under the umbrella of the American Land Trust Association and Conservation Fund she established the American Land Conservation Award, given annually to a citizen conservationist. But she was most proud of the local conservation measures she undertook in her beloved Roaring Fork Valley near Aspen.On two occasions she and her husband, Henry E. Catto, Jr., provided the essential funds and leadership to save critical parcels of land from development: once at Rock Bottom Ranch and again at Toklat.She also put their ranch in Woody Creek under a conservation easement and was happiest when walking that property, usually with a pack of rescued dogs in tow.When hosting fundraisers for pro-conservation candidates or groups at her Woody Creek home, Mrs. Catto often invited her guests to “Look at this view,” a stunning one of wildflower meadows, aspen groves and the 14,000-foot Elk Mountain range beyond. She’d then ask, “Do you want to keep it?”At the Aspen Institute she and her husband, Henry, established the Catto Fellowship for a Sustainable Future, which each year brings a group of young leaders selected from around the world to Aspen to discuss solutions to environmental problems, primarily climate change. The fellowship was among her proudest accomplishments. “They are committed to working out a world architecture and framework for climate change control,” Mrs. Catto said recently. “And I hope they succeed.”Mrs. Catto, who divided her time between Woody Creek and San Antonio, was born in Houston on Jan. 19, 1937 to one of Texas’ first families. Her father, William P. Hobby, Sr., was governor from 1917 to 1921, and her mother, Oveta Culp Hobby, served as the first commanding officer of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and as the first secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Eisenhower.Her family’s ownership of the Houston Post Company exposed Mrs. Catto to journalism at an early age, and writing and editing remained lifelong passions. She published a novel and a collection of poetry and wrote a blog for thehuffingtonpost.com on conservation, press and political issues right up until her death. She also wrote pieces for The Washington Post and, in England, for the Independent, the Sunday Times and the Guardian. As vice chairman of H&C Communications, a Texas-based company of network affiliated television stations, she was also a shrewd and farsighted practitioner of the business side of media.Her 1958 marriage to Henry Catto took her first to his hometown of San Antonio, where she was a trustee of Trinity University, then to Washington, D.C. and around the world. Mr. Catto served as U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, the United Nations in Geneva and Great Britain. He also held numerous posts in Washington, including White House chief of protocol, director of the United States Information Agency and assistant secretary of defense.Mr. and Mrs. Catto became fixtures on the Washington political and social scenes and amassed numerous lifelong friends there in politics, policy and media. President Nixon appointed Mrs. Catto to the Kennedy Center’s Presidential Advisory Committee on the Arts, and President Clinton named her to the Advisory Board of the National Parks System in 1993. From 1980 to 1987 she published the Washington Journalism Review (now the American Journalism Review) and remained a contributing editor there for the rest of her life.Despite her marriage of 52 years to a highly visible Republican, Mrs. Catto proved a tireless fundraiser, hostess, campaigner and policy point person for countless Democratic candidates and causes.She is survived by her husband, Henry; children, Heather Catto Kohout of Austin, Texas, John of Basalt, Will of Chevy Chase, Maryland and Isa Catto Shaw of Woody Creek; 11 grandchildren; and a brother, William P. Hobby, Jr., of Houston.In lieu of flowers or gifts, please send contributions to either the Jessica Hobby Catto Memorial Fund, Aspen Community Foundation, 110 East Hallam Street, Suite 126, Aspen, Colorado 81611, (970) 925-9300, or the Jessica Hobby Catto Memorial Fund, San Antonio Area Foundation, 110 Broadway, Suite 230, San Antonio, Texas 78205-1974, (210) 225-2243.A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009, at the Catto Ranch in Woody Creek. For any questions please contact EKS Events by phone (970-927-8808) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).