John Austin “Jack” Tate – a Charlotte banker, civic leader and longtime advocate for children's causes – died at his home Tuesday after a brief illness. He was 91.
A retired First Union executive, Tate helped create many of the Charlotte organizations that serve children: Child Care Resources, a nonprofit child care resource agency; Communities in Schools, which works to keep at-risk students in school; Success by 6, an effort to improve the lives of preschool children; and ThinkCOLLEGE, a center to help students find financial aid.
“Jack was a man of vision and verve,” said Rolfe Neill, former Charlotte Observer publisher. “He was a person with a bias for action. He was a good thinker, and when he arrived at a conclusion and thought that he had a solution, or at least a potential solution, he went at it.”
Tate was the patriarch of a family that transformed the way Charlotte looked at early childhood and public education. His first wife, Dolly Tate, who died in 1991, was a nationally known child advocate who organized TAPS (Teenage Parent Services) and was the first president of the Council for Children.
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After her death, he married Marjorie Warlick, director of Child Care Resources. His son, John Tate, served on the school board in the 1990s and has been on the state Board of Education for several years.
Friends described Tate as organized, tough-minded and plain-spoken, with a contagious laugh.
A native of Charlotte, he was dedicated to his community and the Presbyterian church. He grew up on Queens Road with a brother and two sisters, attending Charlotte public schools and McCallie prep school in Chattanooga, Tenn., before entering UNC. After graduating in 1937 with a degree in economics, he attended Harvard University, receiving his master's degree in business. He served in the Navy and held various banking jobs before becoming president of Piedmont Bank in 1968.
During his 15-year tenure, Tate guided Piedmont's growth from a $12.5 million asset bank in 1968 to a $153 million asset institution. Piedmont merged with First Union in the early 1980s, later bought Wachovia and took their name.
Tate plunged himself into civic issues, particularly ones affecting children. In 1981, he became the first president of Child Care Resources, which became a national model for educating parents about day care services. He pressed for more funding, concerned about the ability of poor families to find quality care – at one time calling a news conference to declare that child care problems in the area were a “catastrophe.”
A Democrat, Tate ran for mayor in 1967, but lost to Stan Brookshire by 43 votes. He was also among the early advocates of a strong downtown, and called the 1980s decision to build the Charlotte Coliseum on the city outskirts the “biggest government mistake of my lifetime.” That coliseum has since been torn down and a new arena constructed uptown.
“I would say that he will be remembered, first and foremost, as a good public servant,” said his son, John Tate. “He was about the common good, building community, and trying to help kids. He wanted to make sure they had a fair chance and he knew the best way to achieve that was through education.”
Janet Singerman, current president of Child Care Resources, described Tate as “a giant for children and families in the community.”
“He was willing to challenge the status quo on behalf of children and he leaves an incredible legacy in that regard,” she said. “The world is truly a better place for him having been here.”
His family will receive visitors from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the home of Tate's son, John, and his wife, Claire, at 1431 Biltmore Drive. The funeral service will be Friday at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte.