A Jan. 31 memorial is set for the Rev. Dr. William B. “Bill” Cate, longtime leader of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, who died Jan. 13 at 91.

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For the Rev. Dr. William B. “Bill” Cate, longtime leader of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, it wasn’t a matter of having a religious faith and also a commitment to social justice.

“For him, they were one and the same,” said his son, Michael, of Seattle.

For Dr. Cate, who died of heart failure Jan. 13 at age 91, it wasn’t a stretch, shortly after becoming president and director of the church council in 1970, to help create the Neighbors in Need food bank, as Boeing layoffs had the local economy reeling.

Nor was it out of character for him to help African-American church leaders expand emergency-food programs to reach their faithful.

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He also led a boycott of banks that had connections to apartheid-driven South Africa. And he worked to end racial discrimination by local banks that made it difficult for certain neighborhood to get home loans.

“Our world has been lifted toward justice and goodwill because ‘Bill’ and his supportive and capable wife, Jan, serve within it,” the late Rev. Dale Turner wrote in his Seattle Times column after Dr. Cate’s 1989 retirement.

Turner said Dr. Cate exercised his faith “by encouraging others with his kindliness and caring, and his fearless stands for all that is just and fair.”

Dr. Cate, a Methodist, helped forge bonds among denominations.

He worked closely with Catholic Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen on anti-war efforts, such as withholding tax payments to protest the Trident nuclear-submarine base on Hood Canal.

“He was quiet, but very determined,” said Alice Woldt, of Seattle, who worked with Dr. Cate at the church council and in later positions she held with the Washington Association of Churches and the Faith Action Network.

“The thing I remember most is him being a really good listener and standing up for what’s right,” she said.

Dr. Cate, a Bellevue resident, was born in Texas and raised in Idaho, where his mother moved the family after the accidental death of Dr. Cate’s father.

In 1942, he enrolled at Willamette University in Salem, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history. He earned a doctorate in social ethics from Boston University and worked at church councils in Massachusetts and in Portland before coming to Seattle.

After his retirement in 1989, Cate helped found the Institute for Ecumenical Theological Studies at Seattle University.

Throughout his career, Dr. Cate sought to address wrongs of the past that had lingering effects of inequality.

In 1981, in calling for reparations for people of Japanese background kept in relocation camps in World War II, Dr. Cate called their treatment “the most gross denial of constitutional rights for citizens and resident aliens that our nation has ever known.”

He also played a key role in an apology by area Christian leaders in 1987 to Native Americans for the antagonism Christian missionaries showed toward natives’ spiritual beliefs and practices.

On a range of issues — peace, race, poverty, Central America, school desegregation — Dr. Cate drew people toward the church council and supported their work, said David Bloom, who was the council’s associate director for urban ministry under Cate.

“I think of Bill Cate as kind of an ecumenical giant walking in our midst,” said Bloom, who said Dr. Cate was known nationally for his ability, vision and commitment.

Away from work, Dr. Cate, who had played football in college, was an avid sports fan and a voracious reader who enjoyed mysteries, novels and history, his son said.

Michael Cate also recalled his father’s sense of humor. When a news stories told of Seattle Mariners players praying before games, Dr. Cate quipped, “They need more hits and fewer prayers.”

In addition to his son, Dr. Cate is survived by his wife of 69 years, Janice; five daughters: Lucy Yerby, of Bend, Ore.; Nancy Lawler, of Alexandria, Va.; Sara Cate, of Yakima; Rebecca Cate and Mary Cate, both of Seattle; 16 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 31 at the First United Methodist Church of Bellevue, 1934 108th Ave. N.E.

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