When Beatrice Katz Zitomer moved to Margate in 1979 and became a real estate agent, she had visions of catching the big housing wave powered by casino gambling.
Already in her mid-40s, the former Cherry Hill kindergarten teacher spent almost a decade learning the business. In 1988, she opened Beatrice Zitomer Real Estate Inc. - just in time for the housing market to hit the rocks in one of the worst crashes in recent history.
When she lost her partners, she rode out the storm solo, and prospered. She was selling properties in Atlantic County, and particularly Absecon Island, until she was stricken with leukemia last summer.
Mrs. Zitomer died at age 77 on Friday, March 29, at her daughter's home in Bethesda, Md.
In February 2011, the Zitomer agency was acquired by Prudential Fox & Roach, like many small firms subsumed under the giants. "The dynamic is far different than when she started," said her son Mitchell, her vice president for 14 years. "Boutique real estate offices like hers are an anomaly."
Rather than retire at 75, Mrs. Zitomer relocated to Prudential's Margate operation with most of her staff of 15. She retained her sphere of clients, her son said; she had guided some through the purchase of three Shore homes.
Born in Philadelphia, she moved early on to Camden, where her father was a pharmacist. After graduating from Camden High School in 1953, she enrolled at Temple University to study business.
She got her associate's degree on a Friday in June 1955. That Sunday, she wed Lawrence Zitomer.
The couple settled in Camden, where he owned American Plumbing & Heating on Federal Street. Mrs. Zitomer began married life as a homemaker, became a mother of three, and gave uncounted volunteer hours to Congregation Beth El in Cherry Hill, where the family moved in 1967, and to Deborah Hospital in Browns Mills.
Deciding to work outside the home, Mrs. Zitomer taught kindergarten at the Jewish-affiliated Harry B. Kellman Academy (now Kellman Brown).
By the late 1970s, she wanted a new career. What was as promising as Jersey Shore real estate at the onset of gaming?
She became a protege of Atlantic City Realtor Philip Guber, working for him until 1988.
"She developed a good reputation and decided to go out on her own with a couple of partners," her son said. "Timing was her worst enemy."
The savings-and-loan collapse set off a chain reaction of crises that reached Beatrice Zitomer Real Estate. "She almost didn't survive the first year," her son said. "But she came out of that mess even stronger. She said that if she got through that, nothing would get in her way."
At the peak, 25 agents worked in her office. Mrs. Zitomer spent long hours on the road between the Shore and the Cherry Hill-Philadelphia area, sealing deals on summer homes.
"She was a dynamo," said her daughter, Mikki Ashin. "She always had tremendous energy."
What Mrs. Zitomer didn't expend on selling real estate, she put into the community, volunteering for such causes as Jewish Family Services of Atlantic County and the Ruth Newman Shapiro Cancer and Heart Fund.
In addition to her husband of nearly 58 years, her son and daughter, Mrs. Zitomer is survived by another son, Steven; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Services were Sunday, March 31, at Platt Memorial Chapels in Cherry Hill, with interment in Crescent Memorial Park.
Donations may be made to the Phyllis Natkow Library Fund, c/o Congregation Beth El, 8000 Main St., Voorhees, N.J. 08043; the Ashin-Zitomer Dor L'Dor Fund, c/o Congregation Har Shalom, 11501 Falls Rd., Potomac, Md. 20854; or a charity of your choice.
Condolences may be offered to the family via e-mail at email@example.com.