Cato Hall honors local business leader, philanthropist

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dedicated May 6, 2004, Cato Hall is often the first point of contact for prospective students interested in enrolling at the state’s urban research institution. Named for Wayland H. Cato Jr., the building houses the Undergraduate Admissions Office, the Graduate School and the Chancellor’s Office, as well as internal audit and legal affairs.

A distinguished business leader and philanthropist, Cato was born in Ridge Spring, S.C., in 1923. His father, Wayland Cato Sr. worked for United Merchants and Manufacturers (UM&M), a New York-based textile conglomerate. The elder Cato moved his family to Augusta, Ga., in 1937, where the younger Cato attended the Academy of Richmond County, a compulsory ROTC military public school. He graduated with honors in 1940.

catoCato Jr. enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill and was elected to Beta Gamma Sigma, a national honorary scholastic commerce fraternity. He also joined the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps. In 1944, Cato graduated in the top three percent of his class with a bachelor’s degree in commerce.

During World War II, he served nearly three years on active duty in the U.S. Navy, stationed aboard minesweepers in the Pacific Theatre.

Following his discharge, Cato joined his father and other family members in Charlotte. The elder Cato had left UM&M to start his own business, which became the Cato Corporation, a chain of women’s apparel stores. Cato Jr. became president and chief executive officer of the family business in 1960. He added the title chair of the board of directors in 1970. He retired as chair emeritus in 2004; his son John Cato was named CEO in 1999.

From 1995 to 2002, Cato Jr. was a director of the UNC Charlotte Foundation. Personally and professionally, he endowed a number of scholarship programs at the University.  For his leadership in business in the Carolinas and service to the nation, state and community and for his commitment to learning and scholarship, Cato was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters during May 2002 commencement.

Conceived as the Humanities Office Wing, Cato Hall originally housed undergraduate admissions and the Graduate School, along with the Development Office and the departments of Communication Studies and Social Work. The three-story, 32,500-square-foot facility was built for $5.1 million using bonds approved by state voters in 2000 and other University funds. 

Cato died Nov. 4, 2023.

Atkins Library Special Collections contributed to this article.