HYDE PARK — She was the massage therapist to the stars. Or at least to one star.
Sue Komater spent more than 30 years as a licensed massage therapist, mostly working independently out of her South Tampa home. Prominent judges and politicians, including former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, were among her regular clients.
One day some years back, singer Lou Rawls was in town. He somehow heard about Ms. Komater's work and came to her for a massage.
"She was all nervous," remembered Ms. Komater's sister, Carol Komater Hewitt.
Ms. Komater passed away Feb. 3 She was 59.
She had been battling cancer for a long time, but few of her friends knew it. Even some members of her family didn't know how ill Ms. Komater was. She didn't want anyone to make a fuss over her, and she didn't want to worry people who cared about her.
"She was sure she was going to beat it," said her brother, Chris Komater. "She was absolutely sure."
She had always been extremely active and hard-working, and even in the weeks before she passed away she was kayaking and doing strenuous yard work.
"Five days before she died, a group of us were sitting around in her back yard and her screen door fell off the hinges," said long-time friend Paula Winans. "She insisted on getting up and fixing it herself. We tried to do it for her but she wanted to do it. Yep, that was how Sue was."
Ms. Komater spent her childhood in the Detroit area, and moved to Tampa in the mid 1970s. Her sister, Carol, had moved here shortly before. They shared a house in Sulphur Springs and worked together as bellhops.
"We were the first female bellhops at the airport hotel," Hewitt said. "We'd ride to work on our motorcycles. The Komater sisters were kind of a 'thing' in Tampa at that time."
One reason Ms. Komater was such a successful massage therapist, her family said, was that she had a varied background that helped her develop expertise in a variety of massage disciplines. She had a background in sports massage, she had worked in a chiropractor's office, and she was knowledgeable about Eastern medicine. So no matter what caused someone to seek out a licensed massage therapist, Ms. Komater knew how to help.
To people who didn't need massages, though, Ms. Komater was best known as a creator of designer hats.
When she died, Ms. Komater left a room in her house packed nearly to the ceiling with hats. Some were half-finished; others were already completed, left in boxes. Many were inspired by history and pop culture, especially classic actors. No two hats were alike, and they all had names. The Audrey Hepburn was one of her favorites.
For about 10 years starting in the mid 1990s Ms. Komater and Hewitt staged an annual event, billed as The Komater Sisters Show, at Friday Morning Musicale. Ms. Komater sold her hats, and Hewitt sold her own artwork. The sisters' favorite local artists were invited to show their work.
Ms. Komater's hats, from her lighthearted "pope hats" to the beautiful and elegant hats she created as an homage to classic styles and fashion, were always a highlight.
"Anytime someone bought one of her hats, Sue took their picture wearing the hat," Hewitt said. "She was an amazing photographer and she has wonderful portraits of everyone who owns one of her hats."
Besides her sister, Carol, and her brother, Chris, Ms. Komater is survived by brothers Mark and Paul, sisters June and Diane, her parents, Rudy and Mary, and her former husband, David Crisler. A memorial will be held in the summer; details will appear on Ms. Komater's obituary on legacy.com.