Cate entered legal practice with his father after earning his law degree as the Founder’s Medalist for his class. A longtime community leader, he helped lead the effort to combine Nashville’s city government with Davidson County government to create Metropolitan Nashville and, in 1962, served as Metro Nashville’s first vice mayor.
Cate was a respected leader in the legal community and a public servant whose commitment to Nashville also included decades of board service and civic engagement. Dewey Branstetter ’81 (BA’78) told The Tennessean he had fond memories of Cate, who worked closely with his late father, Cecil Branstetter ‘49, in founding the Metro Charter.
“Mr. Cate was one of those folks who was involved in government and politics for all the right reasons. He really wanted to make Nashville and Davidson County a better place,” Branstetter said in an interview with The Tennessean.
Vice Mayor Jim Shulman ‘85 praised Cate for laying the groundwork for the “best of what Nashville is today.”
“His efforts will always be remembered,” Shulman said.
A Nashville native, Cate was elected president of the Vanderbilt University Student Union, the Student Christian Association and the Honor Council. At Vanderbilt Law School, he was editor-in-chief of the 1950-51 Vanderbilt Law Review and received the Founder’s Medal, signifying first honors for his class.
He entered legal practice with his father and practiced law as a partner in Cate & Cate until George Cate Sr’s death in 1978. Cate Jr. retired from the practice of law in 2014 after a career spanning 63 years. His career achievements were recognized in 1984 with the Nashville Bar Association’s John C. Tune Public Service Award, an honor named after a Vanderbilt classmate given annually to the NBA member who has shown the highest degree of dedication to the betterment of the community.
“George Cate lived to see the benefits of the consolidation of the city and county governments for which he advocated,” said former Nashville Mayor David Briley, grandson to Beverly Briley, Metro Nashville’s first mayor. “From the 1960s until his death, Vice Mayor Cate represented the best of Nashville as a lawyer, as a civic leader, vice mayor and as a family man.”
Cate married Carolyn Ward Bass (BA’49), whom he met at Vanderbilt, in 1949. Starting in 1952, he served for two years as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps based in Washington, D.C. He later served in the Army Reserve and was promoted to Brigadier General in 1979, serving until 1984 as commander of a military police brigade with units in Tennessee and four other states. He received the Legion of Merit for outstanding military service and achievements.
In the 1960s, he was instrumental in the creation of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. In 1958, the Metro Charter had been defeated in a referendum. As chair of Citizens for Better Government, Cate led the campaign for the adoption of the Metro Charter, speaking on the merits of the proposed consolidation of the city and county governments. When the Metro Charter passed on June 28, 1962, Nashville became the first city in the nation with this form of government. Cate was elected as Metro Nashville’s first vice mayor in 1962 and served from 1963 until 1966.
“The creation of Metropolitan Government really carved out the future for Nashville to a great extent,” Cate said in 2015.
Cate remained dedicated to promoting and preserving Metro Nashville government throughout his career, serving on the Metropolitan Historical Commission from 2008 to 2014, and, in 2012, on a committee planning the 2013 celebration of the 50th anniversary of Metro Nashville. He frequently spoke about the formation and history of Metro government to local organizations, including Leadership Nashville, and to delegations from other cities across the nation contemplating a similar form of government.
He was appointed to the Metro Nashville Board of Education in 1976 and served as its chairman in 1981 and 1982. He also served in leadership roles in many civic and professional organizations, many supporting public education and teachers.
He was an avid outdoorsman and naturalist with interest in the lakes, streams and woodlands of Middle Tennessee.
He loved Nashville so much that he had little interest in traveling. “I have been to Ashland City twice!” he joked to friends.
Cate’s wife of 40 years, Carolyn, died in 1989. He is survived by his wife, Freda Cate; his children Carolyn Cate James, Catherine Cate Sullivan, Emily Cate Tidwell and George Harrison Cate III; and a large extended family.