Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lewis Katz: A Mensch in Ways I Never Knew

PA Gov. Tom Corbett comforts Ed Rendell
Lewis Katz
"Altogether too rarely in life, someone lives and just exudes, pouring out of every pore in their skin, such good will and energy and joy that they create this magnetic field that draws all the rest of us in. And while we're in it, we walk a little more erect and we feel a little more energy and we feel elevated because we're in this magnetic field."

That's what Bill Clinton said today at a memorial service for a man who had had yards of press in the Philadelphia Inquirer before his death -- and yet I had no inkling who he really was.
How is it that when it's too late we learn the true measure of a person?
Lewis Katz had been described as a wealthy philanthropist who had made his money in billboards and parking garages. Little more was said about him, even as he succeeded in taking full control of the paper last week after a contentious auction with other owners.

His memorial service today was extraordinary. Perhaps the most moving I have ever witnessed as one person after the other stood up to tell of his humble generosity, his determination to do something for others every single day, his impish humor and sense of fun, and his ability to draw in so many people who considered him a "friend" -- from the waiters he would tip $100 bills or take annually on gambling weekends in the Bahamas, to the likes of Bill Clinton, Ed Rendell, Ron Corbett, Ed Snider, Bill Cosby,  Cory Booker, and Doris Kearns Goodwin -- all of whom spoke teary-eyed about him yesterday.
I cried listening to their stories, and laughed too, as they talked about his antics,  such as the time he made a bet that he could tell Pres. Carter a dirty joke at a reception. After he bent down and whispered
in Carter's ear, security hauled him away. He laughed all the way out, delighted that he had won the bet.
Or the time he was asked to speak at a fundraiser for Clinton and asked Clinton to whisper something in his ear before it was his turn to speak.
Why? Clinton asked.
"Because that way, people will think we're close and will donate more money," Katz said.
Clinton did just that, whispering, "You're a putz!" as Katz kept a straight face.
There's no way I can capture the emotion and the story telling that went on for 2 1/2 hours. You can watch the service here.
Goodwin, whose home in Concord, Mass. he visited hours before the tragic plane crash in Boston, recounted the last evening of his life. How, "curiously," he asked to visit the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, across the street from the restaurant where they were dining and to climb Authors' Ridge, where Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott --all friends in life --  rest side by side.
And perhaps "prophetically," she said, the last book he was reading, the one in his pocket, was On the Shortness of Life by Seneca, who wrote, "If you know how to live, when your last day comes, you will not hesitate to meet death with a steady step." (Listen to her speech here -- it's worth suffering through the ads.)
Katz's son, Drew, said that his father had taught him everything except how to prepare for this day. He promised his 14-year-old nephew that he will step in to help fulfill Drew's dream of learning about business from his "Poppy." And he tearfully asked that Drew and his siblings some day regale his own children, yet to be born, about the grandfather they will never meet.

Lewis Katz, born poor and fatherless in Camden, gave millions to education, launched a foundation, started a charter school, supported Boy and Girls clubs, and much much more. He worked to make the world better until his last, fiery moment.

1 comment:

strausskg said...

I also listened to the memorial service for Lewis Katz and found his life inspirational. With tears and humor, speaker after speaker gave quite a portrait of a man who I will never meet. Yet the way he lived his life has give me much to reflect about in dealing with others.