Myers B. Cather's life story, typed and illustrated and saved for posterity, began with his mother’s memories — of a 9-pound baby born in Wyoming, nicknamed Buddy by his grandmother.
The pages of "My Story" included his family’s return to Lincoln after the homesteading adventure out west ended. His stonemason father and grandfather laying bricks and sidewalks, the two families living as neighbors on P Street.
It detailed his boyhood adventures. His first car, a Graham-Paige, shiny red. A teenager singing at Lincoln High and being taught English by Willa Cather’s sister, Elsie.
A young man's service to his country as a pilot — first in World War II and then Korea. His tenure as head of the Lincoln Air Base. His career in advertising, an account executive for an automotive giant and later a bigwig at Bristol-Myers.
There was his marriage to Margaret McKay and his three lovely daughters and his entrepreneurial endeavors.
But the biography failed to note his time at the University of Nebraska, where he was a halfback on the football team, took classes in marketing and business and art and upon his death bequeathed $2 million to UNL’s School of Art, Art History & Design.
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Bud Cather was 96 when he died on Dec. 24, 2013, in Rancho Bernardo, California.
The Air Force colonel was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, survived by three daughters, two granddaughters, one brother and a host of loved ones.
“He probably was very well-known in Lincoln,” his nephew John Cox said from his Palm Springs home. “His father was Cather Construction and they used to do sidewalks all over town. A lot of brick buildings in Lincoln were Cather-built.”
The stable at Wyuka, now the Swan Theatre, was one. The Carnegie Library on North 27th, now Matt Talbot Kitchen, was another.
His uncle was a natural athlete, Cox said. “He was an ice skater, he could figure skate, he played football for the university.”
And he was an amazing artist. “He taught me to draw.”
And he charged for the training: “I paid five cents a class.”
He left behind dozens and dozens of paintings and small sculptures. Seascapes from vacations to Jamaica, drawings of almond-eyed cats and foxes, portraits, landscapes. Wooden birds, carvings of old men.
The School of Art, Art History & Design staged a retrospective of his works in late January, when they announced Cather’s endowment and celebrated his legacy with the Myers B. Cather Art Fund.
“This is a remarkable gift from a remarkable family,” Francisco Souto, director of the school, said last week. “It will bring fresh, new air into the school.”
The endowment will support everything from scholarships and assistantships to grants for travel. “Opportunities to make their education stronger.”
In the 1930s, Cather had pursued art as a Cornhusker.
“He ended up going to art school, business school and marketing school there,” Cox said. “And as a result, he never actually graduated.”
Instead, the young man with movie star good looks went west and graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He met Salvador Dali there and they painted movie sets together.
Then he went to war.
He commanded a squadron of B-24s in World War II in Europe. He flew three missions on D-Day. When they called him back to Korea, he answered.
Later, he’d return to Lincoln to command the air base, where visitors like Gen. Curtis LeMay were frequent.
“He (LeMay) asked a tanker crewman how morale was. The crewman answered, ‘Excellent, Sir. We have a slogan for our tanker, ‘Up your ass with Mobile gas!,’” Bud wrote in his memoir.
A few years later, Cather went back to California to work on advertising slogans himself. He left McCue/Cather Advertising for Detroit in 1957, lured away by Grant Advertising to manage the Dodge account. (“I knew nothing about Dodge automobiles except a friend of mine who lived across the street from me owned one and he considered it a lemon.”)
Five years later, he was working on Madison Avenue, head of Bristol-Myers’ products division, traveling the country and sealing deals.
He had it made, said Cox, who followed his uncle into the advertising business.
And when he wasn’t wooing a client, he made art.
“He drew, painted and sculpted his whole life.” A skilled photographer, the artist snapped pictures first and then drew from those images, sometimes straying into impressionistic works.
Eventually, Cather returned to the California sunshine he loved.
But he loved his hometown, too, Cox said.
“Bud had always been dedicated to Lincoln and to the university. The whole family is dedicated to Nebraska.”
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Bud Cather knew how to make a deal.
He was a workaholic like his father and grandfather and a savvy businessman who could spot opportunity.
He sold cucumbers from his mother’s garden. Pulled nails from wooden forms caked with dried concrete. He delivered ice cream for Taylor Drug, wrapped boxes of Kotex in plain green paper so the ladies wouldn’t blush at the counter. Made 50 cents an hour as a laborer during high school.
“I hired a man ... to do my job for twenty-five cents an hour,” he wrote in his memoir. “I pocketed the other twenty-five cents and went swimming.”
His older brother was filled with good ideas, says Bob Cather, who started Cather & Sons Construction with another brother, Howard, and their father.
“He was the innovator,” Bob Cather says. “He was the brain. I just kind of went along.”
He gives an example: Bud recruited him and a few other men to travel the state, painting signs on lumber yard roofs to direct small airplanes to the nearest airports.
Bud designed the stencils from conduit and they chalked in the outlines before painting the letters with bright yellow aluminum paint that smelled like bananas.
The state paid them $85 a sign, which Bud shared with his crew.
“They got rich. I got rich. The state got an air marker,” Bud wrote.
Bud had a knack for being in the right place, he said. When he was training in the Air Force, he had a roommate named Jimmy Stewart.
His advertising career took off in the heyday of print — overseeing a $20 million account for daring new cars like the Dodge Dart.
He bought Bristol-Myers stock and held it.
His big brother protected him, Bob said, and he taught him to love art.
“From the time I was a little boy, he was drawing and encouraged me to do so, too.”
He even followed him to the University of Nebraska — where a distant relative named Willa Cather once studied — now blessed with Bud’s generous gift.
“I majored in art, too, but I never had that kind of talent.”