My friend Catherine Santos died late last week. She was 91 and died peaceably, in bed, with her beloved dog lying next to her and her daughter holding her hand. Catherine was a pioneer and smart – and literate, her email address was Hypatia 5 – and funny, very funny. She was tough and kind and always a joy to be around. Oh, and she was very English (despite marrying a Spaniard).
I first met her on my first day at Shapell Homes – I was 31 and had just been hired as a General Superintendent by the guy who would later be my partner, Sam Berland – and she was the lone salesperson on a condo project in Cupertino. I soon learned that she had been my new boss’s secretary at Kaufmann & Broad and Sam had run interference for her when she decided she wanted to be a salesperson rather than a secretary. Now that seems like a no-brainer, but then – about 1968 – there were no women sales people in what was know as merchant housing; selling new houses was considered a man’s job.
When Catherine got her license, Sam leaned on K&B’s very reluctant sales department to give her a job. At the time, the best salesperson K&B had in Northern California was selling an upgrade project in Foster City which was particularly difficult because the houses were spread around the town in onesies and twosies rather than the usual tract configuration, it was not a place for a novice (which was, of course, the whole point). The salesman, who didn’t want any help, and the tract superintendent were the only people who knew where each individual house was. To show that woman couldn’t sell production houses, the Sales Manager had put Catherine on the hardest job the company had.
In the first month, Catherine sold almost as many houses as the so-called Golden Boy. In the second month, she outsold him. The next month, Catherine was selling three houses for every two sold by her male counterpart. A year later, most of the salespeople at Kaufman & Broad were women, although none were as good as Catherine. The world had changed.
Now she is gone and the world has changed again, it is a little darker place. Rest in Peace, friend Catherine, you’ve earned it.