By Julianne Goldthwaite
Special to The Mountaineer
Charles Cathey recalls 9 generations of family history in Bethel
If 70-year-old Charles Cathey was offered a million dollars to move away from Bethel’s Pigeon Valley, he would turn it down in a heartbeat because one can’t easily dig up roots as deep and strong as his – nine generations deep, that is.
“In 1798, my great-great-great-great-great grandfather Captain George Cathey, a captain in the Revolutionary War, settled on the Pigeon River near where the east and west forks of the river meet,” began Cathey. In 1815, George Cathey moved his family to Missouri in a wagon train, only leaving behind his oldest son, William Cathey (Cathey’s great-great-great-great grandfather).
“William Cathey is the earliest relative buried here in the Bethel cemetery,” said Cathey, adding that William had one child, his great-great-great grandfather Colonel Joe Cathey, whose title of “colonel” was a title of respect and who, in 1835, served on the N.C. State Constitution Convention, as a N.C. senator in 1842 and also ran a farm, store and mill where Pigeon Valley Rest Home sits now. Next come Cathey’s great-great grandfather Joseph Turner Cathey and his great grandfather Kenneth Clay Cathey, followed by his grandparents Thomas Joshua and Minnie Trull Cathey, whose home Cathey lives in today.
Cathey recalls his grandfather sitting by a tall radio during World War II and listening to radio news personalities like Gabriel Heater, Edwin R. Murrow and H. V. Kaltenborn. “My grandfather used to tease and threaten to hold my feet to the light above his bed,” recalled Cathey, noting that his grandfather told him about the passenger pigeons in the mid 1800s,blocking out the light when they migrated.
“Another family story was that my Grandmother Cathey’s father, James Riley Trull, came up with the community name of ‘Cruso’ after reading the book ‘Robinson Cruso,’” added Cathey.
Cathey’s parents, Hugh Joshua and Barbara Sheffield Cathey, dedicated much of their live caring for him and his older invalid sister, Vera, who suffered from cerebral palsy and lived to age 46 while her twin sister only lived three days. “My mother gave her life caring for my sister,” said Cathey, adding that his father was an accomplished mechanic, plus worked for Champion Papers during World War II. “Gas was hard to come by during the war, so my dad converted an old Chevy truck to run on charcoal (for Champion). Also, I remember people bringing him broken bicycles and he fixed them up.
” In his early years, Cathey worked on Rickman’s farm on the thrashing machine. After he and his friends got filthy, the first thing they did was jump in the river, and then went to the movies at the Park or Colonial Theaters. “I was always a problem child,” Cathey said with a laugh. “My schoolmates probably still remember me as the first terrorist in Haywood County when one of my friends and I made gun powder and about blew up the science lab!
” As he got older, Cathey helped care for his sister Vera, but his mother made sure he was able to grow up as much like his classmates as possible. “A few times when I watched Vera and it got late, I do remember watching out the window for my mother’s car to come up when my buddies wanted me to go somewhere – but I never minded watching Vera,” he said.
In the ninth grade, Cathey was on the May Court with Mary Kay Phillips Cody while his
future wife, Ava Jean Henson, was on that same court with Neal Kelly. In their senior year of 1955 through 1956, however, Cathey and Ava Jean began dating when he and Roy Browning were football team captains while she was a cheerleader. Cathey was named “Most Athletic” along with Louise Pinkerton, but it was always “Most Intellectual” Ava Jean Henson that he had his eyes on, and they were married on January 5, 1957.
They were married 47 years when Ava Jean passed away in Sept. 2004. During their married life, Cathey served as a medic in the Army from 1957 to 1959 and worked at Dayco in the research and development department for 35+ years, from 1962 to 1997.
Over four decades, he has served in the Masonic fraternity , member and Past Master of Sonoma Masonic Lodge, member and past officer of The Waynesville York Rite Bodies, Grand Chaplain for order of the Eastern Star in 1990-91, a member of the Asheville Scottish Rite Bodies where he received the honor of 33rd degree in 1991, Grand Commander of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of North Carolina in 1996 and Grand Master The Grand Lodge of North Carolina in 2000, and was honored by NorthCarolina Governor Jim Hunt with the “Order of the Long Leaf Pine,” the highest honor a governor can give a citizen. He was also proud to present eight $1000“Charles Edward Cathey Masonic” scholarships in 2007 and again in 2008.
In the shadow of a glowing wall of civic honors, Cathey says that he is most proud of his children, Chuck, Tom, Machelle, his daughter-in-law Amy and his grandchildren - Joshua, Seth and Jared. All three children agreed that they couldn’t have had better parents. “I remember as a little girl, I was ‘Daddy’s girl’ and I would run and knock him down at the door,” said Machelle Cathey.
Cathey’s sons Chuck and Tom fondly recalled vacationing at the beach and spending time at their Cruso cabin – camping, riding bikes, fishing, and deer hunting. “I always wanted to be like my dad – he worked on machines and I always wanted to be in engineering,” said Chuck Cathey. “A lot of people say I look and act like my father and I couldn’t think of a better compliment.” Tom Cathey described his father as patriotic and an inspiration. “He inspired me to serve in the military,” said Tom Cathey, who has served 28 years in the military and is now a colonel in the Army Reserves.
“My son Chuck is the ninth generation of Cathey’s who have lived within a mile of where George Cathey settled in 1798 – that has put a feeling in my heart for this river and this area,” said Cathey. “I always tell people that this valley is my body and this river is my blood.” Cathey is featured on “Walking in the Footsteps of Those who Came Before Us: A Collection of Bethel History” where he recounts stories including the passenger pigeon story, the Bethel Academy and the industries of Woodrow.
To contact Cathey, call 648-1468 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. If interested in the Bethel history video, visit the Bethel Rural Community Association website at www.bethelcomm.org or call 506-0939.