MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BNc) by Chad Dollahite — The Lord’s church lost a saint from this life Friday, Oct. 25, the Memphis School of Preaching lost her Director Emeritus, many across this country and world lost a friend and a brother, sister Annette Cates lost her husband, Dan and Andy Cates lost their father, other members of the family lost a man about whom they cared deeply, and I lost a hero in the faith (as well as a dear friend and Christian mentor).
We know, intellectually, that “our loss is his gain,” yet it still hurts to say goodbye to someone who has meant so much to so many. The full obituary for brother Cates may be read at this link.
Personally, I knew brother Curtis Cates, and I am a better person today for having known him. I met him when I arrived at the Memphis School of Preaching as an 18-year-old boy in August, 1996. I had never lived away from home and was a bit nervous, but I found an immediate friend in brother Cates.
As he shared my love for the Alabama Crimson Tide, we would laugh sometimes about how we had to bond together, since there were so many fans of the University of Tennessee around us. Whether it was to talk football, talk about a Bible question or local work, or just talk about not much of anything at all, brother Cates seemed to relish those occasions of visiting with his students.
I remember quite well an occasion, not too long after I had been in school, when I had been to a Memphis River Kings (minor league) hockey game. One of the players had flipped a puck up into the stands to me after warm-ups, and some of my fellow students and I wrote “Scripture Puck” on it with a yellow highlighter. The joke was that if you had it sitting on your desk during a memory work test, it would help you out! (Yes, I tested it, and, no, it did not work!) One day, before morning chapel began, someone was passing around the “Scripture Puck,” and everyone was getting a laugh about it, when, all of a sudden, brother Cates walked in and said, “What’s that?” Being young and a new student, I was scared he would take it the wrong way and accuse me of anything from being superstitious to being involved in the occult. Brother Cates read the inscription on the puck, then he looked up with the most puzzled look on his face and, at that moment, everyone had stopped talking and was paying close attention to what was going on with this strange trinket. What happened next will forever be ingrained in my memory. Brother Cates tossed the puck to a random student and said, “Quote a Scripture,” to which the student responded by quoting John 3:16. Brother Cates looked up at the student body with his classic “Curtis Cates face” and said, “Heeey, brother—that thing really works!”
Brother Marshall Keeble used to talk about his students and call them his “preacher boys,” and I believe brother Curtis Cates loved his “preacher boys” dearly; such was evident by how he treated them.
Being the director of a preacher training school is no small task; it requires an immense amount of time. One might envision a man in a closed office tending to all the work before him. Brother Cates certainly accomplished much, as his six published books and annual editing of the MSOP lectureship book attested (among many other ongoing works, such as regular teaching in the school). However, I cannot recall one single occasion of peeking into his office and asking, “Brother Cates, do you have a minute?” when I received anything other than, “Sure, brother! Come on in!” as an answer.
I can go back in my mind and recall many details of brother Cates’ office and how at home I felt in there. I admired him, and I am confident I took up too much of his time on a few of those visits, yet he never once rushed me or told me had to get back to something, but instead sat there and listened or in some other way encouraged me more than he could possibly have known.
Preaching school was difficult and, being young and immature, I was very close to giving up on a couple of occasions, but each time brother Cates encouraged me. He did not even know what I was thinking and, yet, he seemed to read my mind and know how to get me to hang on and stick with it.
Even after graduation, I cannot recall one single occasion when I called to ask him a question or talk to him about a situation when he did not stop and take time to speak to me and help however he could. If everyone treated his students, teachers, brethren, even fellow men, as did Curtis Cates, the world would truly be a much better place.
Those who studied under brother Cates always seem to remember his classes especially well. He had a style of teaching that was like no other. He once wrote a tract called “Teaching with Enthusiasm.” I saw the tract somewhere and picked it up, thinking to myself, “Well, if anyone is qualified to write a tract on that subject, it is brother Cates!”
Many never realized how thoroughly educated brother Cates was because he never flaunted it, and he always taught very simply (see obituary above for detailed educational accomplishments). He used to say, “Boys, put it down where the calves can get it, and you’ll know the cows can get to it, too.” Brother Cates’ simplistic style certainly did “put it where the calves can get it,” but it was also a unique presentation that was unforgettable.
I shall never forget studying Job under brother Cates, but also the book of Proverbs. I still have notes in my Bible from statements that brother Cates would make going through Proverbs that caught my attention. My classmates and I would often remark how easy it was to get caught up in his teaching and realize you had not taken notes very well, yet, years later, I can recall many of the things he said with little to no effort, simply because of his enthusiastic, unique style of teaching.
His acted-out illustration of Brer Rabbit and the tar baby will always be remembered by the class of 1998 (illustrating Prov. 17:10), as well as his use of the cartoon character Wil E. Coyote to illustrate Proverbs 26:27.
Brother Cates was famous among students for his knowledge of and memorable teaching of the book of Job. One day, talking about behemoth (40:15-24), noting how many modernists (and some modern versions) state that behemoth is simply a hippopotamus. Brother Cates would read verse 17: “He moveth his tail like a cedar,” then ask, “Y’all ever seen a hippo’s tail?” While asking the question, brother Cates would have his pointer finger, grasped within the other hand, wiggling it like a squiggly little hippo’s tail. Such observations from brother Cates would often be followed by one of my favorite Catesisms—”Brethren, that’s hyper-stupid!” Other statements, such as, “Anyone who can see through a ladder can see that,” “Brethren, who greased the clock?!” and many others were common and made Curtis Cates as unique and humorous as he was lovable and easy to understand.
I loved all my instructors when I was a student at MSOP, but there was a man who, to me, was larger than life; he was a giant of the faith, gentle as could be, and he could make any day brighter simply by flashing his beaming smile and saying, “Heeey, brother!” That man was Curtis Cates; he was and is a “preacher hero” of mine and many others, and he will be sorely missed.
Yet, we look forward, one day, to seeing him again and enjoying a great reunion in heaven. Truly, “Blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13)!
Chad Dollahite was a 1998 graduate of MSOP and preaches the gospel in Bremen, Ga.