May 23, 2006

A Good Man Passes

The Houston area was shocked yesterday by the loss of one of its more colorful characters. County Treasurer Jack Cato passed away during heart surgery at the age of 70.

Harris County Treasurer Jack Cato, a former award-winning newsman and Houston police spokesman, died Monday of heart failure while undergoing tests at St. Luke's Hospital for a heart condition. He was 70.

Cato had served as county treasurer since 1999 and had defeated former city councilman and mayoral candidate Orlando Sanchez in the Republican primary in March.

He was expected to breeze into a third term as county treasurer in the November general election.

As he had in every venture he had sought, his friends said, Cato endeared himself to those around him.

Jack Cato is survived by his wife, Shirley; his sons, Chris and John; and seven grandchildren. They have my prayers and deepest sympathies at this time.

His is an obituary filled with colorful stories of his days as a reporter and editor here in Houston. Let me offer some samples.

As famous for his news scoops as his idiosyncrasies, Cato reigned in the world populated by cops and cop reporters — the once dark and dirty underbelly of Houston.

He was stabbed in the back while covering the 1978 Moody Park riot and then gave an interview while being examined in a hospital shortly afterward.

Cato was as famous for showing the scar from his stab wound — he once auctioned off a look at a fundraiser — as he was for the actual stabbing.

Mass murderer Elmer Wayne Henley confessed in a call to his mother on Cato's car phone.

He once stopped a fleeing drug suspect with a gun-shaped hand and a firm shout to halt.

When he was refused the name of a heart-transplant patient, he donned surgical scrubs and took a look at the man's medical chart. In 1976, he tried to get one of his employees at Houston News Service to sneak into a Harris County morgue and get a picture of Howard Hughes.

"He was more concerned with getting the story than anything else — that was Cato," said Phil Archer, a KPRC reporter who got his start in the news business from Cato. "Cato was the last of that era, the two-fisted, cigar-smoking cop beat reporter."

He got into politics in the late 1990s, and was elected to two terms as county treasurer. He faced a strong challenger in this year's primary, and beat him handily. I'll concede I endorsed that challenger, but only because I had been hearing rumors of health probmems for some time and had become concerned about whether or not Jack was still up to the job. Sadly, it appears that he was not, though his death yesterday did come as a bolt out of the blue to many of us involved in Harris County politics.

Cato's death leaves a vacant office to be filled and a new candidate to be named for the November election.

The Harris County Commissioners Court will meet to appoint Cato's successor through the November general election. The Harris County Republican executive committee will then name a replacement for the November ballot.

I'm sure I'll start hearing about potential replacements soon, since my job as precinct chair makes me part of the executive committee. I hope that the potential candidates at least wait until after the funeral before they start seeking to take Jack's place.

But I knw that whoever follows him in office and on the ballot will be no where near the stuff of legends that Jack Cato was.

|| Greg, 04:40 AM || Permalink || Comments (2) || Comments || TrackBacks (0) ||

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Sure going to be quiet around here in Harris County with Jack.

I believe that this may be an opportunity For his son (if he's not too busy) to step in and fill the rest of the term, till the election.

Or maybe this is going to be another one of the "gang" appointments? A "gang of one" since its only Harris County.

The problem with that is how do you debate yourself?

Don't go there you gutter-minds!

Like I say, its going to be pretty quiet.

|| Posted by boyooboy, May 23, 2006 10:54 AM ||

A very thoughtful piece, I'm glad I stopped by to read it.

On the lighter side, Jack may have been the pattern used when they did the Columbo tv series, kind of rough around the edges and always had a cigar going while looking like he just rolled off the sofa from a nap.

|| Posted by T F Stern, May 23, 2006 04:47 PM ||
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