As a lifestyle photographer, Graciela Cattarossi saw many beautiful places — sunny beaches, glamorous hotels. But to her, the loveliest sight in the world was in Surfside, because the center of the universe lived there: her 7-year-old daughter Stella.
The Argentine-born Cattarossi, 48, who built a photography business on her own, was a single mom who did everything with the single-minded goal of making her daughter’s life better.
“Her devotion to her child was unparalleled,” said her friend Kathryn Rooney Vera of Miami, who has known Cattarossi since they were neighbors at Miami Beach’s Grand Venetian in 2008.
Cattarossi, Stella, and Cattarossi’s parents Graciela and Gino lived in unit 501 of Champlain Towers in Surfside, which collapsed early Thursday morning. The Uruguayan consul confirmed that Cattarossi’s mother, for whom Cattarossi is named, is a Uruguayan national and was a diplomat in Uruguay in the late 1960s.
Visiting the family at the time of the collapse was Cattarossi’s sister Andrea, whose husband stayed in Argentina. All five family members are missing.
Vera, whose children attend Von Wedell Montessori with Stella, said Cattarossi’s generosity extended to friends as well as family. The photographer shot maternity photos of Vera and presented them to her as a gift to commemorate what she believed would be Vera’s last child. Then Vera got pregnant with her fifth.
“She was so excited for me,” Vera said. “She said, ‘I’m ecstatic!’ She worked hard for everything she had, and she was so generous.”
She describes Cattarossi as “down to earth” and “a little bit Bohemian.”
“She was conscious of being a healthy person in every way — mind, body, spirit, emotionally. She was very fit. She played tennis and was conscious of bringing up her daughter in a holistic, healthy way.”
She was also an immigrant who fully embraced her adopted country.
“She loved everything we stand for,” Vera said. “She used to say ‘Americans must understand what they have and hang on to it and fight for their freedom.’ She just loved the essence of America.”
But always, Stella came first. Mother and daughter were close; they shared a bed. Vera finds herself wondering if her friend had time to wake up before the calamity, reach out to Stella and pull her close.
“I hope she put her arms around her little girl,” she said.