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In memory of George E. Cates

This week our hearts are heavy with the loss of one of Overton Park Conservancy’s visionary founders, George E. Cates. Anyone who remembers the Overton Park of ten years ago will understand just how profoundly George’s dream of a beautiful, safe, and welcoming park for all Memphians has been realized.

The outpouring of memories and tributes is a testament to how many lives George touched. I wanted to add a small remembrance to that chorus, before sharing an Overton Park memory in George’s own words.

I’ve been with the Conservancy since late 2012, so while I wasn’t around for the very earliest days, I met George when we were still very much in startup mode. I knew him mostly from board meetings, when he would always cut to the heart of the matter at hand with good humor and precision.

When my mom died in 2015, perhaps the most thoughtful note I received in sympathy was from George. Something he said has stuck with me all this time: “You will be pleased in the coming years at her ongoing presence with you.” It took me months to believe that. I kept waiting for it, in fact. In the aftermath of such a massive loss, the emptiness and the absence are sometimes the only things you can feel.

But gradually I began to see the wisdom in George’s words, as I was able to find my mom in places both familiar and surprising. And today I look forward to all the places we’ll be able to find George throughout our lives.

He’ll be in the Old Forest whenever we walk by the “champion” trees–the tallest representatives of each species. Our Director of Operations, Eric, identified them a few years back and took George on a tour of these giants that created countless other trees, provided shelter for wildlife, and positively impacted the entire ecosystem in ways we’ll never fully understand.

Champion trees
He’ll be in the formal gardens, laughing with friends and celebrating the park’s transformation.

George Cates at A Magical Night at Overton Park
He’ll be alongside the Conservancy’s first major project, Overton Bark, being serenaded with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” courtesy of Tina’s accordion.

George Cates and Tina Sullivan
And of course he’ll be on the golf course when the ribbon is cut this fall, and generations of Memphians experience the game in a new way thanks in large part to his vision and determination.

Overton Park golf course
Rest well, George. We will see you around, everywhere.

– Melissa McMasters, Conservancy Director of Communications

In George’s Words
Here’s a memory George shared with us for Overton Park Stories.

When Bena and I moved to Memphis in 1961, transferred from Perry, Florida and knowing two people here, my employer Buckeye Cellulose put us up at the Parkview, in those days an apartment hotel.

On one of our very first evenings there, I thought it a good idea to crank up my bagpipes (I’m a terrible player, but enthusiastic – worst of all worlds for any instrument, especially the four-in-one bagpipe). I was huffing along peacefully (?) on #8 fairway when suddenly I was blinded by a bright light. Had I died and gone to heaven? Au contraire – ’twas the Memphis constabulary, telling me to shut down the racket, ’twas against the noise ordinance, going to jail, never see Bena and the light of day again, etc.

Then with a laugh, he told me it would be a waste of time to arrest me – because the Police chief was named McDonald and was a (real) piper!

He still told me to shut it down. Not the last time I got that dictate.

– George Cates