Dr. Louis E. Catron ’58 died Oct. 30, 2010. He was a former professor of theatre at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. and author of books, plays and articles. Dr. Catron was noted for his direction of popular William and Mary Theatre musicals, classical plays, modern dramas and comedies, for which he won local and national awards.
His colleague Richard Palmer recalled, “In more than 30 years of directing, Lou Catron provided many wonderful experiences for Williamsburg audiences. His musicals usually sold out the Phi Beta Kappa theater, but he also did a wide range of dramas. He was a special teacher who continued to nurture former students years after they left William and Mary. Important writers in film and television continued to rely on his critiques and support.”
He is survived by his son, Markwood Lincoln Catron. Other survivors include two brothers and one sister: John Mark Catron of St. Paul, Minn., Bayard L. Catron of Springfield, Ill., and Jennifer Lee Catron of Madrid, Spain.
Dr. Catron was born in Springfield, Ill., in 1932, and was educated at Millikin University and Southern Illinois University. During the Korean War, he served in the Navy. Prior to teaching, he held a variety of jobs such as, newspaper reporter for a large daily in Springfield, radio disc jockey, barker at a circus carnival, and stock car driver. He enjoyed success as an actor, but felt he belonged in teaching theater.
He started his teaching career as theatre director and speech teacher at Lincoln College and later served as a one-year replacement for the Chair at Illinois State University.
In 1966, Dr. Carlton began teaching theatre at William and Mary with courses ranging from playwriting, acting, directing, American theatre history, dramatic literature and introduction to theatre. He founded Premier Theatre, which presented original student plays, and founded and advised Second Season, which presented various student directed projects; started the department’s senior directorial program; and served terms as acting chair of the department and artistic director of the theatre.
In 1988, the Virginia Council of Higher Education awarded him the Outstanding Faculty Award, an annual honor given 12 professors. Dr. Catron was the first arts faculty member to receive the prestigious award.
In 1972 and 1975, he was named an “Outstanding Educator of America.”
Dr. Catron directed many plays, receiving several awards from Folio Magazine and Virginia Gazette. Two plays entered in the American College Theatre Festival received high marks and saw a number of actors nominated for major national awards. His production of “Agnes of God” toured several cities in Virginia. Many of his musical productions for the William and Mary Theatre set attendance records. His last play for the theater was “Kiss Me Kate,” in 2001.
Among his awards, he was most proud of being elected to the William & Mary chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the national honorary scholastic fraternity.
Prof. Catron joined others in urging Williamsburg City Council to establish an Arts Commission to support local arts, and for six years he served as chairman. He was a member of the Virginia Commission for the Arts. He campaigned for construction of a new Williamsburg Library and its subsequent performing arts wing, as well as the William & Mary Muscarelle Museum of Art.
He wrote more than a dozen books for the theater, most dealing with play¬writing and directing. Several became college staples. He published a number of articles in “Writers Digest,” “The Writer,” “Sail” and “Dramatics.” One of his plays enjoyed thousands of productions throughout the United States and Canada, and several had off-Broadway production.
Known for his distinguished voice, Dr. Catron was delighted when the Williamsburg Symphonia invited him to narrate Beethoven’s “Egmont Symphony” at the Kimball Theatre. He narrated the film “Dangerous Marine Animals” for the Virginia Marine Institute. He also served as dramatic consultant for the John Marshall Foundation script project.
Jerry Bledsoe, another colleague in Theatre and Speech, said, “I had a great deal of faith in Lou’s ability to realize a production well. He knew how to make it appeal to the audience. He knew how to make it go. He was a splendid playwriting teacher. He knew what made a story work and he was good at passing it on to his students, and many have made careers of it.”
A number of Prof. Catron’s students excelled as actors, directors, screenplay writers and authors. Perhaps best known are actress Glenn Close and novelist-screenwriter Karen Hall of “M*A*S*H” and “Hill Street Blues.” His playwriting graduates went on to write more than 40 books, several dedicated to him.
Prof. Catron was also an accomplished sailor who raced in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. After retirement in 2002, he taught popular courses for the Christopher Wren Association and was a volunteer for Meals on Wheels and Faith in Action.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials to the Louis E. Catron Scholarship Fund for Artistic Development, c/o Office of Development, College of William and Mary, PO Box 1693, Williamsburg VA 23187. The fund will support W&M students who focus on studio art, creative writing, applied music, or theater arts.