Katz remembered as businessman, philanthropist

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker speaks during a memorial service held on Wednesday morning at Temple University for businessman Lewis Katz. — ABDUL SULAYMAN/TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER

During a memorial service held Wednesday morning at Temple University, businessman and philanthropist Lewis Katz was lauded as a man who strove to help others.

Katz, 72, and six others died on Saturday, May 31, 2014 when his private plane crashed as it attempted to take off near Boston.

More than 1,000 people packed Temple’s Performing Arts Center for Katz’s memorial service, which featured remarks by former President Bill Clinton, former Gov. Edward Rendell, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Gov. Tom Corbett and Mayor Michael Nutter. Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider, Inquirer editor Bill Marimow and comedian Bill Cosby also spoke.

While Katz was well-known for his philanthropic work, many of the speakers said his most important job was that of a father and grandfather.

Rendell referred to Lewis as a “great man.”

“Lewis was a great man not because of his achievement in business, philanthropy and sports, although there were many. Lewis was a great man for things that never made the newspapers – never made TV,” Rendell said as he shared stories about Katz’s generosity.

Clinton recalled attending an event when tennis star Andre Agassi described the school he opened in a low-income Las Vegas neighborhood. Katz pledged to fund one in his hometown of Camden. The Katz Academy now operates two schools in Camden.

“If more of us acted on our better impulses and then kept our commitments…it’d be a better world today,” Clinton said.

The mood of the service often shifted from somber to humorous as many of the speakers shared stories about Katz.

Booker recalled a conversation that he had with Katz when he was running for the Senate.

“‘Cory, don’t think you’re anything special, because any idiot can get elected to office. In fact, most idiots do,’” Booker said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “He was telling me, in fact, that titles don’t make men – men make titles.”

Nutter said Katz’s death serves as a wake-up call. He said Katz made life better for many others.

“Lewis Katz lived his life to the fullest and was full of life — always working, always thinking, always trying to do more and better. Imagine if more of us were commited to doing more and better for people, for our communities, for our institutions, for our city, what an even greater city we would be,” said Nutter.

From politicians to athletes to waitresses and porters, Katz touched the lives of many.

Clad in a Temple t-shirt and sweatpants, Cosby spoke about the positive impact his close friend and classmate had on society. He encouraged the audience to keep up Katz’s good works and the institutions that he supported such as the Boys and Girls Clubs in Camden and Temple University.

“I’m not challenging you, I’m telling you – you better not let it drop,” Cosby said.

Four days before his death, Katz and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest won co-ownership of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and philly.com.

Katz had been returning from a gathering at the home of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin when his plane crashed.

Among those traveling with Katz was Anne B. Leeds, a retired schoolteacher and neighbor in Longport, N.J.; Marcella M. Dalsey, executive director of the Drew A. Katz Foundation and Susan K. Asbell, director of the Boys and Girls Club of Camden.

“Lewis was in terrific spirits that sunny afternoon,” Goodwin said, noting that Katz was excited about the newspaper venture. “All his life, he retained the best qualities of being a little boy – above all, a sense of the wonder of life.”

During the memorial service, Katz’s relatives spoke about the type of family man he was.

Katz’s 14-year old grandson Ethan Silver spoke about the bond between him and his “Poppy Lewis.”

Katz’s son Drew Katz rounded out the memorial service with an emotional presentation.

“He was a force of nature, brilliant, hardworking, savvy, funny… and tough as nails in business,” Drew Katz said of his father and best friend. “My dad’s best business success was in the business of making memories. He lived every day like it was his last.”

Katz rose from humble beginnings. He was born into poverty and raised by his widowed mother in Camden, N.J. Katz went on make a fortune in parking lots, billboards and a sports cable TV network in New York.

His career spanned the areas of business, education, investment banking, law and media. After serving as a partner in the law firm of Katz, Ettin and Levine, he led a variety of enterprises including Kinney Parking Systems, the New Jersey Nets, the New Jersey Devils, Interstate General Media and Interstate Outdoor Advertising. Katz directed the Katz Foundation, which supports charitable, educational and medical causes.

Katz was a 1963 graduate of Temple University and a major donor. He was a longtime member of Temple’s board of trustees. Last month, he announced plans to donate $25 million to Temple to support the School of Medicine. He also gave $15 million to Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law, where he graduated first in his class.

In recognition of Katz’s commitment and his lifetime of efforts on behalf of the university, Temple’s board of trustees will name the university’s School of Medicine after Katz.

A private funeral was held for Katz on Tuesday.

 

Contact Staff Writer Ayana Jones at (215) 893-5747 or ajones@phillytrib.com.

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