Lewis Katz: The biggest local celebrity we never knew [photos]

    In a city known to fuss about the caliber of its celebrities, Lewis Katz should have been a Philadelphia superstar.

    And of course he was to the thousands who knew him, loved him, worked with him or benefited from his generosity — from the kids shoveling snow who got a wad of cash from his wallet, to the institutions that put his name on their buildings. But most people in Philadelphia likely will only hear the name Lewis Katz now as a result of his dying last weekend in a plane crash. That’s a shame, even if it likely wouldn’t have bothered him. We should have known him better. 

    By all accounts, Lew Katz was the kind of guy who just showed up for people, who let them know they were appreciated, who took notice of what they were doing and what they needed and how he could help — in both showy rich-guy ways and anonymous ways. He attended the dinners and hosted the events and put the right people together in the right places. 

    On Wednesday, people showed up for Lewis Katz. Friends and neighbors and famous and not, they filled the Temple University Performing Arts Center.

    Though already a legend in South Jersey, where he grew up in poor in Camden, Katz rarely really made headlines west of the Delaware until he joined the ownership group of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com. And then, what headlines! Months of lawsuits and gossip and uncertainty, photos of him on the witness stand, where it was clear he wasn’t enjoying himself.

    Yet historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin, at whose house Katz had spent his last evening for a fundraising event, said he’d described himself as feeling like a young guy again, looking forward to the adventure of the news business. 

    In his remarks, former Gov. Rendell said Katz and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest’s purchase of the Inquirer and Daily News was “the greatest achievement of his life.” Gov. Corbett choked up telling a story about Katz helping out a student named Luis, after a quick meeting on the back porch of the governor’s residence. It can be unsettling to see politicians in a truly emotional state, but there were Rendell and former President Bill Clinton, sitting next to each other onstage alternately yukking it up and crying, Corbett reaching over to offer a hand of consolation.

    Clinton said Katz was a man of such good will, energy and joy that he created a “magnetic field” that people wanted to be in. He remembered Katz and Rendell as a couple of guys in search of laughs. “They made me play Nerf basketball in an office. I did not win,” Clinton said.

    He called Katz a good Democrat with Republican friends. Then Clinton went on to tell a story about Katz personally cutting a check to the Democratic Party to pay staffers when it had only $8,000 in the bank. Clinton, the Big Dog, giving props to a man with a big heart. 

    U.S. Sen. Cory Booker shared a story about how Katz had heckled him while he was trying to impress a room of Lubavitcher Jews by giving a meaningful speech. Booker described Katz as a tough “dad” type, whose approval you wanted. A guy he’d tried and sometimes failed to impress, who told him “any idiot can get elected to the United States Senate.” The kind of guy who enjoyed humbling the self-important and exalting the plain.

    Perhaps that’s fitting for a would-be newspaper tycoon. 

    In his remarks, Philadelphia Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow talked about Katz’s closeness and devotion to his son Drew, whom he had mentored in business and in life. The younger Katz pledged to carry on his father’s life’s work and, in a touching turn, pledged to teach his own son all he learned. 

    The day had started early for Drew Katz. At 4:36 a.m., he tweeted: “I have never known pain like this. Rest in peace beloved papa. Be w/mom and be our angel from above. Give me the strength 2 get through this.” 
     
    By 9 a.m., lines were forming outside as celebrities, including Shane Victorino gathered inside. Four hours later, Drew Katz delivered his heartfelt speech, part grateful son and part bragging father. Most people in Philadelphia don’t know the telegenic 42-year-old Drew Katz, either, but as he steps into his father’s place at the helm of the city’s oldest media company, it’s likely we will.
     
    His shattered best friend, Flyers owner Ed Snider, recalled Lewis Katz as the best man he ever knew. We all should have known him better.

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