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Stories of Philanthropy

The Cato-Kerr Scholarship

Charleston Entrepreneur Establishes Fund to Honor Citadel Alumnus

Wayland H. Cato, Jr.

Wayland H. Cato, Jr.

Celebrated Charleston entrepreneur Wayland H. Cato, Jr., known across the Southeast for his keen business acumen and generous support of education and the arts, can now count The Citadel among the colleges awarding scholarships that bear his name.  This scholarship, however, has a bit of a twist:  it was established specifically to honor Citadel graduate John J. Kerr, Class of 1968.

As co-founder, president, CEO, chairman of the board, and now chairman emeritus of The Cato Corporation, a Charlotte-based chain of women's apparel stores operating in 29 states, Wayland Cato has had many opportunities to demonstrate his strengths as a business leader and philanthropist. 

Along the way, not surprisingly, he found himself in need of a good attorney.

In 1992, Cato crossed paths with Kerr, an experienced business and trial lawyer whom he engaged as his local legal counsel in Charleston.  After graduating from The Citadel with a business administration degree in 1968, Kerr saw combat in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, where he was wounded in action as a forward observer with his infantry company before serving as executive officer of a Howitzer battery.  Upon returning to the States, he enrolled in law school at the University of South Carolina.

Currently serving of counsel with the Charleston business law firm of Buist Moore Smythe McGee, Kerr credits his Citadel training for much of his success:  "I cannot speak for Mr. Cato, but to my mind, the lessons I learned at The Citadel (yes, sir; no, sir; no excuse, sir) formed the bedrock of our relationship early on. He is punctual and does not want excuses."

"An angel lit on my shoulder when Wayland Cato called on me to serve," says Kerr.  "Our business relationship grew into a cherished friendship over the years."

John J. Kerr, '68, and Wayland Cato

John J. Kerr, '68, and Wayland Cato

Clearly, this bond of friendship and deep respect is mutually felt.  In addition to retaining Kerr's legal services for nearly twenty years, Cato expressed a desire to honor Kerr and recognize their relationship in a more enduring manner.  In 2008, he approached The Citadel Foundation to create the "Wayland H. Cato, Jr. – John J. Kerr Endowed Scholarship."

This permanently endowed fund will support Citadel undergraduates in financial need, particularly those whose family income exceeds government assistance criteria but who demonstrate a quantifiable need for assistance.  In making this determination, the college will give preference to students who show a strong work ethic in the public or private sector and a commitment to volunteerism through performing meaningful community service.

This new scholarship places The Citadel in excellent company.  Wayland Cato and his wife, Marion Rivers Cato, the daughter of famed former U.S. congressman L. Mendel Rivers, have generously supported numerous colleges and other arts and civic organizations, both in Charleston and across the country.  Through the Wayland H. Cato, Jr., Foundation, they have endowed scholarships at over 23 schools in the Carolinas and Wyoming, including the College of Charleston, Converse College, the University of Wyoming, and the University of North Carolina—not only at Cato's alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill, but at each of the 16 universities in the UNC system.

Cato, who entered the U. S. Navy after UNC and served as the commanding officer of a minesweeper at the close of World War II, still works every day, and is currently an avid sailor and active rancher with some incredible stories.  "At 86 years of age, he is as mentally and physically active as someone 50 years his junior," according to Kerr.  "His friends will attest that it is hard to keep up with him."

For over 50 years, Cato has cultivated his love of farming on what was once several hundred country acres in North Carolina, now an oasis in the rapidly developing Ballantyne area of Charlotte.  Upon retiring from The Cato Corporation, he and Kerr traveled across Wyoming in search of a cattle ranch, settling on a historic ranch near Sheridan, which he beautifully restored. Cato actively raises Black Angus cattle here; as he often observes, his cows don't know anything about holidays, so ranching is a 24/7 job.

"I very quickly learned that I was in the presence of an extraordinary gentleman," Kerr says. "The business acumen and fortitude of a man who founded Cato Corporation with over 9,000 employees is obvious. But aside from his success in business, he is even more successful as a generous, patient, caring and unassuming husband, father and friend."

Honoring this friendship with an endowed scholarship at The Citadel is a profound and deeply moving gesture, one which will support the education of promising cadets for generations to come.

At the same time, the Cato-Kerr Scholarship stands as a testament to the tremendous daily and lifelong impact that Citadel graduates can have upon the individuals with whom they work and the communities they serve.

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