Today in NC State History: Caldwell’s wife dies after long illness

February 22, 2014
By Bill Krueger

historyIconAs the new chancellor at NC State, John T. Caldwell pulled into Raleigh in 1959 in a station wagon loaded with two Siamese cats, a cocker spaniel named Shirin and three of his four children. His wife, Catherine Wadsworth Zeek Caldwell, arrived later in a Simca with the couple’s youngest child after having car trouble in Tennessee.

Getting set up in their new home was a challenge at first. (“We couldn’t find any sheets or towels,” Catherine Caldwell said. “And the children’s clothes are all mixed up.”)

But as her husband quickly went about the business of running the university, Catherine Caldwell settled into life in her new home. She told a reporter for The News & Observer shortly after arriving that she looked forward to getting to know the people of Raleigh and that she had already visited the state art museum. She dismissed concerns about any town versus gown difficulties.

“Some folks speak of town people and college people,” she said, “but I’ve always found friends everywhere.”

Caldwell had plenty of experience with campus life. She grew up on the campus of Southern Methodist University, where her father was a French professor. She studied French as an undergraduate at SMU and then Spanish in graduate school at Vanderbilt University after he father joined the faculty there. (She would later study Chinese, as well.) She met John Caldwell, who was then on the faculty at Vanderbilt, at a campus party. He was offered the job as president of Alabama College when he and Catherine were on their honeymoon. Caldwell was president of the University of Arkansas before coming to NC State.

Unfortunately, Catherine Caldwell’s time at NC State would be brief. She died at the age of 41 on this day in 1961 following a lengthy illness that confined her to the Christian Science Sanatorium in Chestnut Hills, Mass. She died at a nursing home in Boston.

“As the wife of a rising college administrator, she was a gracious hostess, charming entertainer and mother of their four children,” read a story on the front page of the Technician.


Chancellor John T. Caldwell with his wife, Catherine Wadsworth Zeek Caldwell, and their children, Andy, Chuck, Alice and Helen. (Photo courtesy of Historical State)


One Response to “Today in NC State History: Caldwell’s wife dies after long illness”

  1. As a rising senior at NCSC( I, as editor of the Ag Student, wrote and
    led the ” lobby ” not to change our
    name to North Carolina State of
    the University of North Carolina
    at Raleigh….We were NCSU…our
    concerted effort won. As President
    of the largest group of students,
    School of Agriculture, and editor
    of the Ag Student , I was sought
    out by Dr. Caldwell to be charged
    with maintaining his children , their
    well-being, supporting and guiding
    their life activities while he and his
    beautiful wife, Catherine, were in
    Peru, at our sister University in
    Lima ( La Molina). For almost a
    month I enjoyed the residence on
    Hillsborough Street where my
    wife and I maintained the household. To my knowledge I
    hold the honor of having done
    so. Incidentally Dr. Caldwell was
    a close friend with JHK. He told me
    ” Bob I have all the books in my library as President Kennedy and
    you can have access to them. The
    library was adjoining the Master
    Bedroom, and being an avid reader ,
    by getting very little sleep I read
    most of the library.
    What an experience it was.

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