Theodore S. Gutowicz, 90, a longtime Common Pleas Court judge who made headlines as the first Polish American named to a cabinet post in Harrisburg, died of cancer Dec. 5 at his residence in Northeast Philadelphia.
The son of immigrants, Judge Gutowicz trained in the law and quickly mastered local politics and held various state jobs before serving as state insurance commissioner in 1962 and 1963.
In 1963, he was singled out by the Philadelphia Professional Society as the first American of Polish descent to occupy a cabinet-level position in the state.
Two years later, he was appointed to the Common Pleas Court bench by then-Gov. William W. Scranton. Judge Gutowicz served for three decades.
He heard cases in the court's Family, Trial and Orphans' divisions until 1990, when he reached the age of mandatory retirement.
He stayed on as a senior judge in Orphans' Court, finally stepping down in 1996.
In one notable 1990 case, Judge Gutowicz issued a ruling directing the cash-strapped Metropolitan YWCA to sell its flagship building and annex in Center City. The decision ushered in a trimmed-down era for the Y, The Inquirer reported.
Saying that "the Y cannot continue to exist and own these buildings," the judge ruled that the structures at 2027 Chestnut St. were to be sold for $1.6 million.
The buildings had served as headquarters for the Mid-City branch, and as a women's residence and shelter, for 50 years. Members of the Mid-City branch of the Y and its parent group, the Metropolitan Y, had battled for months over the fate of the buildings.
Born and raised in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, Judge Gutowicz graduated from Northeast Catholic High School in 1937 and the University of Pennsylvania in 1941.
While at Penn, he boxed, and played football and baseball.
He served as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Navy Reserve during World War II.
In 1946, the judge graduated from Dickinson Law School and established a neighborhood practice on Allegheny Avenue. "He helped people with wills and other matters in the Polish community," said his daughter, Anita Lukach.
In the 1950s and early '60s, Judge Gutowicz held numerous state jobs.
He served as assistant director of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reference Bureau under Gov. George Leader; assistant deputy attorney general; deputy insurance commissioner; and finally insurance commissioner in 1962.
Before becoming a judge, he participated in Philadelphia politics as a member of the 56th Ward Democratic Executive Committee and the Philadelphia Ward Realignment Commission.
He was a member of the Board of Advisers of Holy Family College, the Board of Education for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and the Aria Hospital Foundation Board.
He participated in the Polish American Congress, Polish Heritage Society of Philadelphia, Men of Malvern, and the American Legion Post No. 396. He was also a member of the American and Pennsylvania Bar Associations.
Judge Gutowicz was married for 30 years to the former Dorothy J. Skodzinski. The two first met on a bus; they married in 1943. After her death, he married the former Loretta Basinski in 1980. She died in 2009.
Surviving in addition to his daughter are stepdaughter Lori Hassinger and seven grandchildren. A son and daughter died earlier.
A viewing at 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, is to be followed by a 10:30 Funeral Mass at Our Lady of Calvary Church, 11024 Knights Rd., Phila., Pa. 19154. Burial will be in Resurrection Cemetery, Bensalem. Memorial donations may be made to the church.