On August 1, 2015, a small ad appeared on the obituary page of the local newspaper — one last inspiring and classy note from Catherine Cater, a much beloved faculty member at North Dakota State University since the 1960s. “Dear Friends,” it said. “Please permit me to leave quietly, without ceremony or ado. I thank you for the diverse ways in which each of you has contributed to my happiness and well-being. You have stimulated my thinking, cared about my feelings, and allowed me to be myself. What more can one ask of a life? Thank you, Catherine Cater.”
I suspect she would not approve of my filling many pages of this issue with memories of her, and my counter argument to her would be that’s the very reason we want to remember you fondly.
You’ll see two short essays in this issue about Catherine Cater, and another online. Many tributes appeared in social media. One former student recalled her as a giant intellect and dear friend. Others wrote of becoming a better person for having met her.
She was a person who read the classics in the original Greek, and had all the intellectual ability that goes along with that. But when we met, she wanted to hear about my interests. At the time, I had just started running marathons, and you should have seen her eyes light up talking about something as unintellectual as that. I have an extra fond memory of the moment the word “marathon” escaped her, so she merrily referred to it as “the tournament” as if the tournament were the most entrancing thing to discuss at length that particular afternoon.
I once asked her to impart a bit of wisdom for the readers of this magazine, but she declined, saying that she didn’t really know what wisdom is. I’d say her last published words summarizing the best qualities of life — “You have stimulated my thinking, cared about my feelings, and allowed me to be myself” — are quite wise.
We are not all as gifted as she, but maybe we can keep her words in mind as we go about our daily lives. What could be better.