George L. Cato, Jr., R.I.P.

Many, probably almost all of you, have never heard of George Cato.  He wasn’t an author or a media celebrity or a public figure.  What he was was my neighbor and closest friend.  He died unexpectedly on June 24, and a memorial service was held at Grace Episcopal Church in Silver Spring on July 7.  At the reception, I was honored to say a few words about George, and I’m going off-script here to share them with you. Sometimes, it’s important to do that.

Between blizzards in January 1996, we had the great good fortune to move into a house three doors from George and Elanor Cato.  As it happened, our sons David and Aaron were the same age as Paul and Charles Cato, and they quickly became friends and grew up together.  We all became as close as family, closer in some ways.

On Halloween, George and I would go out with the boys to walk the neighborhood in search of treats.  On Dec. 31, we parents would watch a movie and try to stay awake long enough to welcome in the new year. On many special occasions, including Thanksgivings, the Catos would come to our house.

On Christmas mornings, David and Aaron would go down to the Catos to help them celebrate with their new toys.

On Passover, the Catos were often at our Seder table, celebrating our holiday dedicated to freedom and taking turns reading passages from the Passover story. When our youngest son, Aaron, had his Bar Mitzvah, the Catos were there, too, and George read the prayer for our country. And when my mom died 20 years ago, George was there, too, helping us mourn.

George and I and the boys sometimes went to Wizards games, which we would watch from the nosebleed seats, taking Metro down to Chinatown early enough to eat first. We also went to many Nats baseball games together. Sometimes Elanor and Sandy would go along, not as sports fans but as friends who took the opportunity just to yak.

Aside from these events we shared as a family, George and I became the closest of friends. On many days, I would walk down to the Catos. If George was there, I could see him sitting in his armchair, with the TV on, ring the doorbell or knock on the door and hang out for a while in his front room, sort of a combination office, den and man cave, where we would sit and chat among his piles of files, wall bookcases and works of art.

My friend George was a charter member of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and we went there together at least once. His favorite spot was the contemplative court, where a fountain reins down on a circular pool flanked by benches.  There he could sit and simply reflect on the history the museum told.

That history became a lot more personal when he learned at a family reunion more about his enslaved ancestors, including the name of his great-great-great grandfather. From online sources, I was able to find and share with him the actual primary documents.

George did not suffer fools, but he was also one of the most sociable persons I’ve ever known. He genuinely loved people, and he could and did strike up a conversation with almost anyone anywhere. To put it another way: George could make friends with a tree.

George was immensely proud of — though sometimes perplexed by — his sons—a normal state of affairs known to any father–and he tried to counsel them without bossing them.

He was a devoted husband, and he loved his family.  He loved driving hours and hours to family reunions in the Carolinas and Georgia, which he helped to organize. He was about to drive down for another one.

He was also a proud Morehouse alum, a fact you could quickly discern from the vanity license plate on his burgundy Accord, and he also enjoyed the long, one-day drive to Atlanta to attend college reunions. One reunion was scheduled when our street was knee-deep in snow, but that did not stop him.  After helping to dig out a neighbor, he dug himself out and proceeded on his merry way.

Another example of George’s persistence: The Catos had a large tree in their front yard that had to come down, and down it went – professionally – leaving a large stump. Rather than rent a stump grinder, George undertook a months-long task with a large ax to chop it to bits. He was literally the Paul Bunyan of Harvey Road, as he reduced that stump to rubble, so there was no evidence whatsoever that a giant tree had once been there, and he planted a small bush in its place.

George was a capable chief financial officer for several nonprofits.  But he had a hobby on the side that was also a business. He loved residential real estate. He loved acquiring and managing rental properties, which he did in good times and bad.  They not only provided a source of income – and stress, when some went under water during the Great Recession — they fit in well with his entrepreneurial spirit.

That was another aspect of our friendship.  We entered into a real estate partnership in 2000 and co-owned two rental properties, selling the first just before the 2008 crash and the second one a few months ago.  It was about that time that George formally retired. But he was restless and looking for something to do. He just couldn’t do nothing. That wasn’t George.

After the boys left the nest, the four of us – George and Elanor, Sandy and I – would go out for dinner on a weekend night, usually to Alozzo on Georgia Avenue or Sergio’s, a family-owned and operated restaurant on Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring.

On Friday night, June 14, we all went to Sergio’s, whose owner warmly greeted us like old friends. This was a few days before we left on a trip to South America.  We had no idea of course, that this would be our farewell dinner.  A few hours before we left for BWI, I went down the street to see him and talk about what we’d do when we got back—play some golf, after a long lapse, or maybe go to another Nats game, though he’d never really forgiven the Lerners for firing Dusty Baker.

Then, a few days later, while sitting in a mall in Buenos Aires, we got the news from our son David who had heard from Paul. It seemed so impossible to accept must less to understand. How could this happen? How could our world ever be the same without George Cato?

George was 65 years old.  May his memory be for a blessing.



  1. Catherine Wakelyn on July 13, 2018 at 6:35 pm

    What a lovely tribute! I never knew him but wish I had.

  2. cecilia fasano on July 13, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    what an amazing tribute to one who was certainly a good good man. I’m sorry for your loss. I loved your description of your friendship, and could almost FEEL George. Indeed, may his memory be a blessing.

  3. John A Lally on July 23, 2018 at 5:25 pm

    It is good to speak of loss, it highlights how good the relationship is. The pain never leaves, it just is a reminder.

    • Gene Meyer on July 23, 2018 at 5:48 pm

      So true. Thank you for this insight.

  4. Michael Putzel on July 23, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    A lovely tribute, Gene. I’d love to know more of George’s story.

  5. Dan Schlieben on July 23, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    Good to have these experiences in life.

  6. Stephanie Ventura on July 23, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    A beautiful tribute, Gene. I am sure George’s family appreciates your heartfelt reflections and remembrances. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Pat McNees on July 23, 2018 at 9:51 pm

    That’s the kind of friend you can’t replace, because he’s so deeply woven into your life and memories.
    A lovely tribute.

  8. Betty Medsger on July 23, 2018 at 10:35 pm

    Lovely tribute to your friend. Thanks, Gene

  9. Betty Medsger on July 23, 2018 at 10:35 pm

    Lovely tribute to your friend. Thanks, Gene

  10. Pat Theiler on July 24, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    Thank you so much, Gene, for this beautiful tribute to George. I am the Cato’s next door neighbor and I am so saddened by the loss of this immensely gifted and lovely man. I was just getting to know him a bit better and I am devastated by his loss.

  11. Dr Ellis on October 24, 2019 at 11:39 pm

    And now, as of today, Mrs Cato has gone to join him. How full the hearts of Charles and Paul must be. How heavy. Ack – the sting of death. I know you will support them in this time, “orphaned” like all must be one day.

  12. Rachel Hardwick on October 25, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    Gene, I’m thinking of you and Sandy and your boys as you help George and Elanor’s boys in this very tough time. I’m so sorry for all of you that Elanor passed away. What terrible news. May all of your good memories bless you.

    Rachel Hardwick (friend of George’s from Grace Church)

  13. Beverly Davis on October 31, 2019 at 9:11 pm

    Thank you ! I will pass this on ! Lewis and Elanor last family reunion was with us, we hosted it in Columbia, SC. Oh, God, I love them!

  14. PD Friends on November 16, 2019 at 12:08 am

    The National Cathedral paid beautiful homage to George’s beloved Elanor on November 15, 2019. Please see the live stream below. Elanor Diana Marshall Cato was a teacher at Beauvoir School there for 44 years.

  15. Niyonu Geri Long Cheeks on June 14, 2022 at 11:12 pm

    Wow! This is reallly something – a wonderful reflection of a rich soul. Cato and I were very close friends back in 1974 when he was at Morehouse. He was such a good (though humble) person. I learned of his passing through an email addressed to my dad who was also a Morehouse alum. I had no idea that his wife had also passed away. My thoughts and prayers are with their family and friends.

Leave a Comment