By  on January 22, 2010

Ann Baum Sakowitz, the matriarch of the Sakowitz retailing family, died of heart failure Monday at her Houston home. She was 96.

The luxury chain, launched in 1902 by the father and an uncle of Sakowitz’s late husband, Bernard, had 18 stores in Texas and Arizona at its peak. The stores, which sold apparel, accessories and gifts, were liquidated in 1990.

Ann Sakowitz was deeply involved in civic affairs and also loved to travel abroad with her husband to select items for the chain’s gift department, said her daughter, Lynn Wyatt. Bernard Sakowitz died in 1981.

“It’s because of my mother and father that my brother and I became so civic-minded — the old adage of giving back,” said Wyatt, a longtime pillar of the Houston social scene.

Sakowitz cofounded the Society for the Performing Arts in Houston, was a founding governor of the city’s Forum Club, and served on committees and boards of numerous arts, educational and charitable groups, including the United Fund, the International Institute of Education and the Alley Theatre, Wyatt said.

Sakowitz favored dresses by Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and Norman Norell and wore high heels until the age of 94, despite suffering from scoliosis, Wyatt said. She never missed an opportunity to promote the store.

“Someone would comment on her dress or earrings and with her twinkling eyes she’d say, ‘Well, guess where I got them?’” Wyatt recalled.

Sakowitz was born in San Antonio and attended Rice Institute, now Rice University. She married her husband in 1933.

In addition to Wyatt, Sakowitz is survived by her son, Robert, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Visitation is 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at George H. Lewis & Sons in Houston. A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at Temple Beth Israel in Houston.

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