When she was beginning her senior year at the University of Michigan in 1950, Cathy Sotir was described in a school profile as “one of those rare young women who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it.”
When she was barred from sororities because she was a first-generation immigrant, she spit on the ground and went on to become head of the university’s powerful Women’s League. When she met the love of her life and he was from another religion, they made it work. And when the moving guys were stumped by a piece of bulky furniture, she straightened them out, too.
Cathy Sotir Apothaker was raised in Detroit but spent most of her adult life in Philadelphia. She was a businesswoman, socialite, widow too soon, and loving parent. She died Sunday, April 19, at age 89 from COVID-19.
Mrs. Apothaker spent the twilight of her life with her daughter, Helena, in Los Angeles, but her family’s legacy in Philadelphia has continued.
She was Cathy Sotir when she was working for Saks Fifth Avenue in Detroit out of college. Saks wanted her to run the women’s department of the New York store, Helena said, so they sent her to the Philadelphia location for training.
She hopped on an elevator at the Park Towne Apartments near the Art Museum when Louis Apothaker stepped into her life. He was Jewish. She was Greek Orthodox. Neither wanted to change religion, yet they were determined to make love work.
“My mother decided, if my father were to convert, she would have broken him for the rest of his life, and that was not a man that she wanted to marry,” Helena said.
She put her business ambitions on hold, found a justice of the peace in 1962, and never looked back.
Louis went on to become a prominent lawyer, and the Apothakers became a power couple in Philadelphia society. Cancer took Louis in 1976. Mournful but resilient (and with two children younger than 12), Mrs. Apothaker started the annual gala still held by the Philadelphia Bar Association.
The association’s Foundation Award has been given out for 41 years and originally was named for Louis Apothaker. Sister Mary Scullion, founder of Project HOME, was the 1988 winner.
“The Apothaker family has had a lasting and profoundly positive impact on the Bar Foundation and beyond,” executive director Jessica R. Hilburn-Holmes said.
Mrs. Apothaker opened her own business after her husband’s death, turning Country Floors at 1706 Locust St. into a popular spot for interior designers from around the country. She traveled the world and collected bits of stone from notable destination such as the Acropolis and the Great Wall of China. Helena is making sure her mother returns to these landmarks.
“What I’m going to do is take those stones and a little sprinkle of her ashes and put them back,” Helena said.
Mrs. Apothaker was 75 when she left for L.A., where her daughter could keep an eye on her health. There was a treasured armoire that the moving company just couldn’t get out of the narrow doorway of her Old City home when the woman who was so perfectly described in that college article more than 50 years ago put her foot down.
“She sat down with her cigarette in her hand,” her daughter recalled, “and said, ‘I got it in here, so you better get it the [expletive] out or I’m not going anywhere.’ ”
Mrs. Apothaker eventually adjusted to life on the West Coast, befriending the workers at Beverly Hills stores such as Saks and Barney’s New York. She also became a regular at a local gay bar, though it had nothing to do with her sexuality.
“She loved the Abbey,” her daughter said, laughing. “It was the only place you could still smoke. I was going to throw her a big 90th birthday party there. And that’s what I’m going to do for her memorial. I’m going to throw her a party."
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by son Jonathan.
— Ed Barkowitz, ebarkowitz@Inquirer.com