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Civic leader George Cates leaves behind long legacy in Memphis after killed in plane crash

Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 9:55 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A civic leader is leaving behind a long legacy in Memphis after a plane crash claimed his life.

People who knew George Cates described him as a giant of a man when it came to the betterment of Memphis, adding if it had anything to do with the improvement of the city his fingerprints were on it.

He was a successful businessman who was not looking for recognition.

“I knew him very well,” said AC Wharton, former Memphis and Shelby County mayor.

Wharton said said the loss of Cates is hard to quantify.

“He wanted to be the heart of the community when it came to improving the beauty, and the cleanliness, and wholesomeness of this place we call Memphis,” he said.

Cates died in a single-engine plane crash near Jackson Tennessee, a plane he was piloting.

Eric Turner is the Madison County fire chief.

“My understanding is that the pilot radioed ahead and was experiencing some trouble and then they lost contact with him,” said Turner.

Cates and his plane were found 50 minutes later around 10:30 a.m. Monday crashed in a farm field. He left Memphis heading to North Carolina when he experienced some kind of trouble.

Cates was the former head of Mid-America Apartment Communities. He was instrumental in forming the Overton Park Conservancy. Overton Park tweeted, “Words are inadequate to describe the grief our team is feeling at the loss of our founding board member, George Cates. We will be eternally grateful for his intelligence, humor, and passionate belief that Memphians deserved a world-class public space.”

Cates was also behind the massive improvements going on at the Overton Park golf course.

“That was the last thing he called me about was the golf course,” said Wharton.

Wharton said Cates was the driving force behind the Neighborhood Preservation Act that helps clean up get blight in neighborhoods.

“It was something he saw. A human being should not live in conditions like that,” Wharton said.

Something Wharton said many people don’t know about Cates was his idea of no whistle zones, quiet zones for trains traveling through neighborhoods. Wharton said Cates was warned about that endeavor.

“Nobody takes on the railroad. Well George Cates took on the railroad,” said Wharton.

It is not clear what caused the plane crash. The Federal Aviation Administration is on the scene and the National Transportation Safety Board will be showing up for the investigation.

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