Henry E. Catto, Jr. (1930-2011)

December 18, 2011

Henry Catto, 1930-2011We are saddened to report the passing of our dear friend Henry Catto, vice chairman of the board of the Aspen Institute. Henry died peacefully at his home in San Antonio. He was 81. Just last week Henry had donated to the Institute $500,000 to help sustain the Catto Fellowship, a program that challenges its fellows to develop new insights about themselves, the role of leadership, and the need for effective collaborative action to ensure the well-being of the environment, a mission so important to Henry’s wife Jessica before she died in 2009. Henry was an integral member of our leadership team. He had a distinguished career as a public servant, including appointments by the first President Bush as US ambassador to the Court of St. James and director of the US Information Agency.

Our sympathies go out to Henry’s family, including his daughter Heather Catto Kohout and son-in-law Martin D. Kohout; son John Hobby Catto and daughter-in-law Laurel Garrett Catto; son William Halsell Catto and daughter-in-law Kristina Kent Catto; daughter Isa Catto Shaw and son-in-law Daniel A. Shaw; and 11 grandchildren.

Read Henry’s obituary in the Washington Post and the New York Times. Below is also an obituary that Henry himself penned in his own inimitable style.


Bob Steel

Walter Isaacson
President and CEO



Henry Edward Catto, Jr., was born in Dallas, Texas, on December 6, 1930, to Henry E. Catto, Sr., and Maurine Halsell Catto. His death, on December 18, 2011 was caused mostly by living so long. He married Jessica Hobby quite some time ago; she preceded him in death in 2009. He is survived by daughter Heather Catto Kohout and son-in-law Martin D. Kohout of Austin, Texas; son John Hobby Catto and daughter-in-law Laurel Garrett Catto of Basalt, Colorado; son William Halsell Catto and daughter-in-law Kristina Kent Catto of Chevy Chase, Maryland; daughter Isa Catto Shaw and son-in-law Daniel A. Shaw of Woody Creek, Colorado; and eleven grandchildren.

Catto graduated from the Texas Military Institute and Williams College, with a degree in American history. After college, he joined his father and uncle in an insurance brokerage, Catto and Catto, in San Antonio. He became interested in politics in the late 1950s, specifically in building a two-party system in 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.

The custom in the U.S., if a candidate cannot get elected, is to ask for a job from the President, who 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, and eventually 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 he learned to explain how a toilet seat could cost the government $600.

In 1988, President George H. W. Bush, a long-time friend, asked Catto to go to London as U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. After two fascinating years there, President Bush brought him back to Washington to head the United States Information Agency.

In 1993, the Cattos returned to San Antonio and to their Colorado ranch. He wrote a memoir, Ambassadors at Sea: The High and Low Adventures of a Diplomat; 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 honorary doctorate of law degrees from Aberdeen University and St. Mary’s University and was a corporate director of Cullen-Frost Bankers, the Aspen Institute, National Public Radio, and numerous civic organizations, and an honorary deputy sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to the following funds:

The Henry and Jessica Catto Memorial Fund

Aspen Community Foundation
110 East Hallam Street
Suite 126
Aspen, CO 81611

The Henry E. Catto Memorial Fund

San Antonio Area Foundation
110 Broadway, Suite 230
San Antonio, TX 78205

In life, always prompt; now, alas, the late Henry Catto.

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