Metro

Mourners recall life, generosity of Lewis Katz

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett wiped his eyes while former President Clinton listened during services.
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett wiped his eyes while former President Clinton listened during services.

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia region bade a soulful, sorrowful farewell to one of its most accomplished sons Wednesday, as 1,400 crowded a public memorial service for Lewis Katz.

They were rich and famous, poor and unknown, people who had been friends with Mr. Katz for decades or had met him only once.

“He’s irreplaceable,” said a tearful Ed Snider, head of the company that owns the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team and one of Mr. Katz’s closest friends.

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The loss of Mr. Katz, 72, a lawyer, businessman, and philanthropist who was co-owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, remained painfully raw four days after he died in a plane crash along with six other people at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass.

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In life, Mr. Katz made and gave away millions of dollars, but as speaker after speaker recalled Wednesday at Temple University, he always said his most important job was as father and grandfather.

Bill Clinton spoke. So did former governor Ed Rendell, Senator Cory Booker, Mayor Michael Nutter , historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Inquirer editor William K. Marimow, and comedian Bill Cosby, a friend of 50 years.

Pennsylvania’s current governor, Thomas Corbett, so often stoic, wiped his tears with a handkerchief.

He described the happy incongruence of having the staunchly Democratic Mr. Katz stay at the home of a Republican governor. His wife, Sue, adored Mr. Katz, Corbett said.

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Mr. Katz told her he had carved his initials under the bed he had used in the governor’s mansion when his close friend, Rendell, lived there.

AP
Lewis Katz.

After the news of Mr. Katz’s death, Corbett saw his wife on the floor with a flashlight, hunting to see whether Mr. Katz had really done so.

Sue Corbett could not find the initials, but her husband assured the assembly that they are there now.

Mr. Katz’s memorial service filled the Performing Arts Center at Temple, where he was on the board, and 200 other people watched a video feed in an overflow room.

The 2½-hour service shifted moods:

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Laugh-out-loud stories, such as the time Mr. Katz bet a friend in a receiving line that he could tell a dirty joke to a born-again Christian, President Jimmy Carter, and won the bet.

Forceful exhortation, as when Cosby, resplendent in Temple T-shirt and sweatpants, told the crowd they must continue Mr. Katz’s good works: “I’m not challenging you; I’m telling you, you better not let it drop!”

Wondrous encouragement, as when Clinton recalled how Mr. Katz, inspired by what he had heard at a meeting, jumped up and pledged to build a charter school in his hometown of Camden, N.J., among the nation’s poorest cities.

“If more of us acted on our better impulses,” Clinton said, “think what a different world we’d be living in today.”

There were moments, too, of wrenching sadness, as when Mr. Katz’s 14-year-old grandson, Ethan Silver, spoke eloquently of his love for his lost grandfather.

“For as long as I live, Poppy Lewis will be in my heart,” the boy told the crowd.

In a tribute video, assembled to appear almost as if he were speaking to the audience, Mr. Katz told people to seize the day, to treasure their too-limited time, to help their brothers and sisters in need, and, most of all, to love their family.

“Life,” Mr. Katz said, “is meant to have as much fun as you can conjure up.”

In the front rows, Mr. Katz’s loved ones wept out loud. He and his late wife, Marjorie, raised two children, Drew and Melissa.

His longtime companion, Inquirer city editor Nancy Phillips, sat near the front.

Mr. Katz earned his enormous wealth in parking lots, billboards, and sports.

Mr. Katz started with nothing, losing his father when he was about a year old, his mother working to put food on the table.

That childhood of need showed itself in the stories told from the podium Wednesday, of the $100 tips he left for waitresses, of the Super Bowl trip he bestowed on a coffee-shop worker.

Over time, Mr. Katz’ influence and ideas touched almost every sphere of public life, from media, to law, to politics, to health care, to education.

Mr. Katz collected celebrity friends the way some people collect stamps. One of the mourners, Shane Victorino of the Red Sox, who is also a a former Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder, told reporters that Mr. Katz was like a father to him.

“He taught me about giving back and what it means to help others,” said Victorino. “I’ll never get to see the man again, and that hurts me.”

Mr. Katz had attended an education fund-raising event in Concord, Mass., at the home of Kearns Goodwin before the crash Saturday night.

“Lewis Katz surely lived life to its fullest,” the historian said, adding that the name of her friend of 20 years would live on in schools and buildings, but mostly in memory.