Arley D. Cathey, College alumnus and donor, 1927-2020

Arley D. Cathey, PhB’50, College alumnus and donor for whom three UChicago facilities are named, died in May of 2020. He was 93 years old.

Cathey was president of Butane Gas, Inc. In 2012, he made a pledge of approximately $17 million to the College. In honor of his generosity, the iconic Harper Library Reading Room, along with the Stuart North Reading Room, were named for his father as the Arley D. Cathey Learning Center. In further recognition of his substantial commitment to the College, the Arley D. Cathey Dining Commons and the Cathey House residential house also bear his father's name.

"I have had the pleasure of knowing Arley Cathey for nearly 30 years,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “His devotion to and respect for UChicago was boundless, as reflected in his substantial philanthropic support of projects that benefited students while preserving the fundamental educational mission of the University and College. We will remember him with deep gratitude and esteem.” 

Recognizable to current-day students by his beloved bowtie collection, Cathey entered the College at age 16 and remained fond of his years at UChicago, where he was first exposed to classic texts like the Iliad and the Odyssey under then-president Robert Maynard Hutchins. He previously expressed: “I really think that reading the classics have helped shaped my beliefs to a great extent, probably as much as my family’s instruction has guided me. The University plays a good role in shaping a person’s beliefs for life. It did mine.”

During his final two years at UChicago, Cathey lived in Burton-Judson Courts, which adjoin the dining commons in his family name. He previously recalled many happy mornings reading on the Judson patio, looking south toward 63rd Street over an expanse of lawn: “I enjoyed that, never dreaming for an instant there would be a large building there … and certainly never dreaming that there would be anything that would bear my name. [Many] things happen that you never dream of happening, and that’s what makes it so exciting and so rewarding.”

Cathey is predeceased by his late wife, Betty (d. 2016), and son, who passed away in 2014.