Friday, July 15, 2011

Edgar Cato

Edgar Thomas Cato, one of Aiken’s most influential horsemen, died on June 21. Mr. Cato was born in Aiken County in 1925 and grew up in Augusta. Along with his father Wayland Sr. and his brother, Wayland Jr., he founded the Cato Company in 1946. Cato stores specialized in women’s apparel and were an immediate success. By 1948, the company had seven stores in small towns in South Carolina. A year later, the company had over $1 million in revenue and it continued to grow and expand.

Mr. Cato was a sportsman, horseman, pilot and philanthropist. His sailing adventures took place mainly in Newport, R.I. and Charleston, S.C. He competed successfully in many regattas and was a two-time 12 meter world champion and an IRC champion. He was a supporter of and contributor to the International Yacht Restoration School and Sail Newport’s public access sailing programs. He also created the Hissar Sailing Center at the College of Charleston and the Edgar T. Cato Dinghy Park in Newport.

Many people will remember Edgar Cato wearing his hunting pinks and serving as the Master of Foxhounds of his own private pack, the Flat Branch Hounds at his Augusta Plantation in Windsor. He was not just an avid foxhunter, he was also a supporter of foxhunting and of the Aiken equestrian community. According to Linda Knox McLean, he was the largest single donor the Hitchcock Woods has ever had.

He had interests in horse racing and especially in steeplechasing. His steeplechasers, racing under the name Brigadoon Stable, were frequent entrants in races on the National Steeplechase Association circuit, including the semiannual races in Aiken. His most successful horse in recent years was Erin Go Bragh, who won the New Jersey Hunt Cup in 2008. His commitment to the sport was deep and he served two terms as a board member of the NSA.

Finally, he was a generous supporter and sponsor of polo. He created Loughrea Plantation about ten miles east of town, a spectacular polo farm that has two of the best tournament fields in the area. His Brigadoon polo team, captained by his daughter Christine, has been an important presence in low, medium and high goal tournaments in South Carolina and Florida.

A memorial service for Mr. Cato was held Saturday, June 25 at the Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and Museum.