Hundreds gathered at the Temple Performing Arts Center Wednesday morning to remember former trustee and co-owner of the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com Lewis Katz, who died late Saturday, May 31 in a plane crash in Massachusetts.
Katz and six others were aboard a Gulfstream IV private jet which crashed through a chainlink fence at the end of the runway and veered into a ravine before erupting in flames at Hanscom Field outside of Boston.
President Theobald opened up the service paying tribute to Katz’s speech at the commencement ceremony in May, which he called “an absolute delight for everyone who was in attendance.” At the commencement in May, Katz was awarded an honorary doctorate degree. Theobald also discussed Katz’s $25 million donation to Temple’s School of Medicine.
“No one could have imagined that we would be here 20 days later to pay a final tribute to Lewis,” Theobald said in his speech.
Katz became a trustee in 1998 after the urging of classmate Bill Cosby to reconnect with university. Katz also served on the board of the Temple Health System and Fox Chase Cancer Center.
Katz was born in 1942 in the Parkside neighborhood of Camden, New Jersey and raised by his single mother, who worked multiple jobs after Katz’s father died of a heart attack. Katz attended Camden High School before coming to Temple University after receiving a scholarship from an anonymous donor. He graduated in 1963, earning a biology degree from the College of Science and Technology.
Katz went on to graduate school at the Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvanis State University where he graduated first in his class.
“Katz still has the highest marks for highest grades at Dickinson,” Cosby said during his speech.
Katz then served as a partner and founder of the Katz, Ettin and Levine law firm and made his fortune through investments in a successful parking company, billboards, and YES, a cable TV sports network based around the Yankees.
Katz co-owned the NBA’S New Jersey Nets in 1998 and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils ftom 2000 until 2003. In 2012 Katz became an investor in Interstate General Media Holdings LLC, the parent company of the Inquirer, the Daily News, Philly.com and a printing facility in New Jersey. Roughly a week before his death, Katz became one of two co-owners of these organizations after buying out the rest of the original partners’ shares to the conglomerate for $88 million.
At the memorial service, the speakers included Trustee Chairman Patrick O’Connor, former Pennsylvania Gov. Rendell, former President Bill Clinton, Gov. Corbett, Mayor Nutter, Sen. Cory Booker and Bill Marimow, editor of the Inquirer.
George Norcross, a democratic powerbroker and Katz’s rival in the media buyout days before, was in the audience.
During the service, Katz was frequently remembered for his random moments of philanthropy or his spur of the moment trips where he would invite anyone on his plane, including a coffee shop cashier he once took to the Super Bowl and three waitresses in Boca Raton, Fla. whom he would take every year gambling in the Caribbean.
“His spontaneous acts of kindness to people he never knew were absolutely incredible,” Rendell said as he recounted a tale of when Katz was driving through a snowstorm and gave $200 to each of three children who were out in the snow voluntarily shoveling the steps of senior citizens’ homes.
“If you were a friend of Lewis Katz you used the term ‘he did what?’ a lot,” Rendell said.
Rendell told a story of waiting at an airport for Katz and receiving a call that Katz had re-directed his plane to Mount Rushmore for guests had never seen the landmark before.
“The thing I loved most about him is he never forgot about people who never started out with anything and couldn’t escape it,” Clinton said.
Clinton spoke about his last defining memory of Katz. In 2007, during a Clinton Global Initiative meeting, Katz pledged to create a school in Camden, New Jersey after learning of how tennis star Andre Agassi founded a high performing school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Las Vegas.
Katz additionally spent money in politics. He is cited as having donated more than $211,000 in the last 20 years to federal candidates despite being registered as an independent, according to Philly.com.
As Katz’s son Drew spoke during the closing of the ceremony, he cried remembering the impact his father left on his family.
“My dad’s best business success was in the business of making memories,” said Drew Katz, Lewis Katz’s son.
At the end of the ceremony, President Theobald gave Katz a “Temple salute” and played clips from Katz’s commencement speech in May to the audience. The audience was then invited to a reception in Mitten Hall.
Temple’s Board of Trustees will continue with plans to name the university’s School of Medicine after Katz in honor of his $25 million commitment.
Katz is survived by his son Drew Katz, his daughter Melissa Silver and his grandchildren Ethan, Brooke, Taryn and Remi Silver.
Sarai Flores can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.