David Marshall Cates

David Marshall Cates
Born: Salisbury, N.C., January 7, 1922
Died March 17, 2019
Member of the Textile Chemistry Faculty 1955-1986

David was the son of Thomas Jefferson Cates and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Bobbitt.  He had four brothers: Thomas Jefferson Cates; Victor L. Cates; Donald J. Cates; and Lawrence Cates; and one sister, Valarie (Boots) Cates.

David attended schools in Greensboro, graduated from Greensboro Senior High School in January 1940 and entered the US Army Air Corps.  He was a radar gunner on B-17s and flew numerous combat missions over Western Europe during World War II.  In 1945, following his discharge, he went to work for Burlington Mills in Greensboro and applied for entrance to NC State.  He matriculated into the School of Textiles at North Carolina State College in March 1946.  He graduated in 1949 with a B.S. in Textile Chemistry and Dyeing and accepted a position with Industrial Rayon Corp. in Covington, VA.  In order to better prepare for an advanced degree, he took a differential equations correspondence course from the University of Chicago. In 1950, he returned to NC State and worked for Hank Rutherford and Ken Campbell.  He earned a Master of Science in Textile Chemistry and Dyeing in 1951.  He entered Princeton University and earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry in 1955 while holding a fellowship with Textile Research Institute, Princeton, New Jersey.

A New Ph.D. Arrives in School of Textiles

Cates was recruited and became a member of the faculty in the School of Textiles.  He was the first faculty member in the School with an earned Ph.D.

During the late 1950s and into the early 1960s, he collaborated with Henry Rutherford, Head of Textile Chemistry, on various research projects, using state-appropriated funds and later was able to find funding outside the School.  Dean Malcolm Campbell saw the wisdom of hiring Ph.D. researchers and invited a number of established men to join the faculty.  If the School of Textiles was to grow and enter into the competitive world of science funding, the faculty thought it imperative that they establish the Ph. D. program.  After many meetings, Cates, Henry Rutherford and Dean Malcolm Campbell met with Provost Harry Kelly, Graduate School Dean Walter “Pete” Peterson, and Chancellor John Caldwell to plot strategy.   A proposal was approved on-campus and forwarded to the University of North Carolina General Administration.  The proposal was approved (1, page 122-123) in November 1967. After several meetings to seek an acceptable name for the program, Peterson suggested “Fiber and Polymer Science”, an all-encompassing degree name which would invite membership from across the campus.  The choice of a general name was a stroke of genius. The first FPS program faculty included members from Textiles, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Statistics.  Fifteen new faculty members were hired between 1967 and 1970, virtually all with earned Ph.Ds.


Rutherford and Cates were successful in identifying external funding, now that a Ph.D. degree program was in place (1, page 127).  Since the research in fibers and polymers was cutting edge, off-the shelf instruments were often not available.  Often, researchers approached Clarence Asbill, Head of the Department of Machine Design and manager of the machine shop for help.  Perry Grady (2) recalled Cates needing help with something called a Thermal Mechanical Analyzer, which would be used to raise the temperature of a polymer and measure the changes in mechanical properties.  Hank Rutherford, on behalf of Cates, met with Bill Windley, a seasoned electrical and mechanical wizard and mature student in Electrical Engineering; Perry was a young Electrical Engineer who was recruited into the FPS program and assisted in developing instruments. Together they were asked to assist Cates in designing and fabricating the new machine. (2)

Over the years, Dave worked with a number of colleagues: Rutherford, William K. (Bill) Walsh, Manfred Wentz (Ph.D. student), and especially Rosa Kirby (chemist and colleague) to offer assistance with analytical analysis. Bill Walsh, who collaborated with Dave and taught graduate courses on the solid and liquid state physical chemistry of polymers, said that he loved taking courses from him and teaching with him. Bill said, “Dave was unique as a teacher in my life and taught me most of what I know about teaching. He had a way of seeming to be confused while explaining a concept which usually aroused great interest in his students, who were trying to chip in with suggestions.” (3)

Keith Beck was hired to continue the analytical instrumentation program initiated by David and Rosa Kirby in Room 8 of David Clark Labs.  The idea of a central lab was a beneficial to the overall research program in the School of Textiles. (6)

He was a member of Sigma Xi, Sigma Tau Sigma, Phi Kappa Phi, Delta Kappa Phi fraternities at N. C. State and Princeton University.  He was also a member of the Fiber Society, American Chemical Society, and the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists. (5)

Private Life

He valued education and spent much of his life teaching students, his children, grandchildren and himself.  He was deeply interested in math and science, typically reading four or five books at a time, rotating between cell biology, evolution, mathematics, history, and non-fiction literature.  His interests were vast.  Many conversations with the grandchildren ended in a math lesson, whether they wanted one or not. He was intrigued by the computer, which he used to enhance his knowledge as well as keep up with loved ones.  He had a very high regard for the English language and considered it as elusive as it was rich, learning new vocabulary words and teaching others their definition well into his final days. (5)

Dave loved to travel, especially to historic sites.  He traveled extensively throughout the United States and internationally.  He was a gardener and loved wildflowers particularly those that attracted birds and butterflies.  His goal was to have a blooming plant at all times, a desire he frequently accomplished. (5)

Dave, while still a senior in college, married Mary C. Ingram of Greensboro.  They have two children: Cynthia Ellen Ethridge of Atlanta, GA, and Carole Elizabeth Harrington of High Point, NC.  He and Mary had five grandchildren.


1.      Mock, Gary N., A Century of Progress The Textile Program, North Carolina State University, 1899-1999, North Carolina Textile Foundation, Inc., Raleigh, N.C., 2001.

2.      Grady, Perry L., Personal communication, November 2016.

3.      Walsh, William K., Personal communication, November 2016.

4.      David Cates, Personal communication 2015, 2017.

5.      David M. Cates, obituary, The News & Observer, March 20, 2019, 9B.

6.      Keith R. Beck, Personal communication, March 2019.


Selected Publications:

1.      Cates, David M., A study of the dyeing characteristics of physically pretreated cotton, 1951.  M.S. Thesis, NC State, LD3921. Tex. Chem. C38

2.      Cates, David, and Cranor, Winniford H., The Stabilizer in Hydrogen Peroxide Bleaching, Textile Research Journal, 30, p848-855. November 1960.

3.      Sirur, P.V., D.M. Cates, T.H. Guion, and W.K. Walsh, “The Effect of Crystallinity on the Vapor Phase Sorption of Acetone in Oriented Poly(ethylene terephthalate), Textile Research Journal, 43, 723‑727 (1973).

4.      Yau, C.C., W.K. Walsh, and D.M. Cates, “The Effect of Uniaxial Compression on the Properties of Poly(ethylene terephthalate).”  J. Macromol. Sci., Phys. B9 (2), 321‑32 (1974).

5.      Yau, C. C., W. K. Walsh, and D. M. Cates “The Effect of Volume Reorganization of Amorphous Poly(ethylene terephthalate) on Thermal Properties,” J. Macromol. Sci. Chem. A8 (1) 165 (1974).

6.      Taher, Abdelfattah M., Cates, David M., A spectrophotometric investigation of the yellow color that accompanies the formation of furan derivatives in degrade-sugar solutions, Carbohydrate Research, 1974, Volume 34, Issue 2

7.      Hsiung, P. L., Cates, David M., Study of glass transition of poly(ethylene terephthalate by gas chromatography, Journal of Applied Polymer Science 11/1975, Vol. 19, Issue 11

8.      Wentz, Manfred; Cates, David M., Nonaqueous Bleaching of Cellulose by Perchloroethylene-Hydrogen peroxide-Water, Textile Research Journal, 09/1975, Vol. 45, Issue 9

9.      Wentz, Manfred, Cates, David M., Sorption of Solubilized Water by Cellulose from Perchloroethylene, Textile Research Journal, 03/1978, Vol. 48, Issue 3.

10.  Kirby, R. D., Cates, David M., Evaluation of Annealed Poly(ethylene Terephthalate) Structures by Gas Chromatography, Textile Research Journal, 12/1981, Vol. 51, Issue 12

11.  Cates, David M., Conversion of polyester/cotton industrial wastes to higher value products: final report. 1986. Book, TS 1587 .C37 1986