As 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.