Eric O. Cates Jr. was born and raised on the Butler County farm he has owned and operated since 1946. In his family since 1818, the 1,600-acre Century Farm has produced row crops, livestock, hay and timber, all during Cates’ 96 years.
After graduating from Greenville High School in 1937, Cates returned to the farm, where he managed 600 row-crop acres before joining the Army National Guard in October 1940. The unit was pressed into active duty the following month, and Cates spent the next six years serving in the Aleutian Islands and Philippines. A combat veteran of both WWII and the Korean War, Cates spent 35 years in the service before retiring as a colonel in 1975.
In addition to a successful farming career that has spanned nearly eight decades, Cates served 16 years as county director of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS), now known as the Farm Service Agency. In 1974, he was elected to the first of two terms in the Alabama House of Representatives. During his time in the Legislature, Cates sponsored numerous bills, including co-sponsorship of the legislation that established the state’s current-use property tax valuation, a huge help to farmers. From 1964 to 1988, he was director of a local bank, retiring from that position only when required to at age 70. Since his “retirement” from farming in 2003, Cates has successfully undertaken both real estate development and timber management.
Cates has been a statewide agricultural leader for decades. Since 1960, he has been a member of the Butler County board of the Alabama Farmers Federation and has held state-level leadership positions in the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association and the association of ASCS agents known as ALACO. He is also a member of the Alabama 4-H Hall of Fame and was appointed by former Gov. Guy Hunt to the state’s Agricultural Advisory Board.
An active member of Fort Deposit Methodist Church since 1946, Cates taught Sunday school for 30 of those years. His wife of 69 years, Louise, passed away in December 2013. The couple had four children, Linda, Jean, Ann and Eric III; 11 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.