TAMPA — After her son died, Nancy Sauer’s two great loves became shopping and her cats.
“Shopping was her problem,” friend Yana Alban said with a laugh. “She couldn’t buy just one. She’d buy 20 or 30 of something she liked.”
That was on display Friday during an estate sale at the Occident Street home of Sauer, who died on Nov. 26 at 84.
There were more than 50 Dale Tiffany floor and table lamps, around 5,000 pieces of jewelry and over 200 Austin Productions statues and figurines, according to the estate sale listing.
The estate sale was scheduled to run through Sunday or until everything in the house was gone. On Friday morning, people lined up two hours before the sale began, according to neighbors, with cars parked as far as a mile away.
But what about her seven Persian cats?
Word around the neighborhood was that Sauer’s will stipulated that her cats must remain at the home, and that they receive an inheritance.
“The deal is that the house was not to be sold until the last cat passed,” Alban said, because Sauer was worried it would be difficult on her pets if they were separated or placed in a new home.
That’s true, said Sherry Silk, executive director of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, and, for nearly six months, the cats remained in the 4,000-square-foot South Tampa home that the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser website says has a market value of $2.5 million.
Someone stopped by a few times a day to check on them, but a Hillsborough County probate judge decided that it was best if the cats found new homes, said Silk, whose organization has had the felines for a month. “Cats shouldn’t be left by themselves in a big house. I am going to personally make sure that we can keep as many together as we can and that they go to the perfect house.”
Each comes with an inheritance, too. The exact amount is still being worked out by an attorney, Silk said, but it will be “substantial … enough to cover the cats’ food, medical and grooming bills forever. They’re young. They’re only 5 years old. Persians can be expensive and persnickety.”
The cats will be available for adoption late this week.
It didn’t shock Alban that Sauer would go to such lengths to care for the cats.
“She loved them so much,” Alban said. “And she was unique. She’d buy cases of lipstick, cases of fingernail polish, and paint her nails black and wear all kinds of jewelry and walk the neighborhood in the evening.”
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Her license plate featured a Playboy bunny, which left some neighbors wondering if Sauer once posed for the magazine.
Not at all, said neighbor Leslie Mueller, but she could understand why people would think that. “She was beautiful and fashionable, especially when she was younger.”
But Sauer became reclusive in recent years, neighbor Susan Csida said. “She’d lost her husband and son. She didn’t have other family.”
Her husband, Ralph Sauer Jr., died in 1986, according to county records.
“They owned a lot of properties,” Alban said.
Sauer and her son, Ralph Sauer III, continued to work in real estate and development.
The son’s 1999 obituary said that they developed the Market Square Shopping Plaza in Fort Myers plus a Target, Barnes & Noble and Longhorn Steakhouse, all in Lee County.
The obituary does not state his age, but Csida said that “he was young” and that Sauer “absolutely worshipped him.”
A University of Tampa spokesman said that Sauer III went to the school “for a short time” and that, in his honor, Sauer “did leave a bequest to UT in her estate, which is being worked out with estate attorneys.”
She also left a donation to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, but Silk said that they do not yet know the amount.
Sauer celebrated her birthday on Nov. 23 with an intimate party of nine guests: Alban and her nurse, plus Cleopatra, Goldfinger, Leo, Midnight, Napoleon, Snowball and Squeaky — the cats.
Three days later, she died.
Csida said the obituary was just a sentence, mentioning only Sauer’s date of birth and death.
But friends and neighbors said there was plenty more that could have been added — proud mother, businesswoman, fashionista.
“Probably the main thing,” Alban said, “is as a cat lover.”