Saying goodbye to a giant

Ethan Silver, grandson of Lewis Katz, speaks at his memorial service at Temple University, Wednesday, June 4, 2014. ( DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer )
Ethan Silver, grandson of Lewis Katz, speaks at his memorial service at Temple University, Wednesday, June 4, 2014. ( DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer )
Posted: June 06, 2014

THERE WERE dignitaries and celebrities, athletes and authors, many of them millionaires, most dressed in their finest clothes. A teenager, nervous but stoic, stood before them all to honor his "Poppy Lewis."

The memorial for Lewis Katz yesterday at Temple's stately Performing Arts Center consisted mostly of stories from his memorable life, tales filled with larger lessons and humor to tamp down the pain felt by so many of the 1,400 mourners.

The speakers painted a picture of a boy raised by a hardworking widow on Langham Avenue in Camden, a kid who got a few breaks, made a few bucks and never forgot where he came from.

Katz, 72, was possessed, former President Bill Clinton said, by the need to help anyone who needed a hand, and he championed others who tried to make a difference, too, right up to his tragic end Saturday night.

"He never forgot people who started, as he did, with nothing," Clinton said from the podium. "It bothered him that anybody with any dream would be left out or left behind."

Katz and six other people, including three of his friends from South Jersey, were killed Saturday night when his private jet careened off a runway in Bedford, Mass., and burst into flames. Katz was heading back to New Jersey after attending an education fundraiser at the home of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in Concord.

The cause of the crash is under investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board said the jet failed to leave the ground after reaching takeoff speed.

On May 27, Katz - a budding journalist in his youth - and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest paid $88 million to win control of the Daily News, the Inquirer and, a transaction that former Gov. Ed Rendell said may have been his crowning achievement in business.

Rendell, who said he'd been asked to join Katz on the doomed jet, choked up recalling his friend, their breakfasts on the Ocean City boardwalk and the easy banter that came naturally to Katz.

"The world will never be as much fun as it was Saturday afternoon," Rendell said.

Katz was as much at ease with waitresses and janitors as with presidents and governors, more comfortable in neon sneakers at a diner with friends than in any hand-stitched leather in a boardroom full of businessmen. He recently bestowed $25 million to Temple University, but was just as likely to brighten a stranger's day and slip out before he could be thanked, the speakers said.

"He saw potential in people who were otherwise invisible," said Rabbi Aaron Krupnick, of Congregation Beth El in Cherry Hill.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, who wore a skullcap to honor his Jewish friend, recalled how Katz "rode" him when they first met, unimpressed at his pedigree until he proved it.

"Lord knows, he was a model of a man," Booker said.

Comedian Bill Cosby, a friend of Katz's since their days as Temple students, ascended the podium in a Temple shirt and sweatpants, telling a few jokes and urging the public - specifically the people of Camden - to carry on Katz's legacy at the Boys & Girls Club and at the KATZ Academy charter school there.

"You better not let it drop. You better not let it fall," Cosby said as he paced the stage.

Eulogies, some more somber than others, also came from Goodwin; Mayor Nutter; Gov. Corbett; Flyers chairman Ed Snider; Inquirer editor Bill Marimow; Temple president Neil Theobald; and Patrick J. O'Connor, chairman of the university's board of trustees.

In Katz's life, the designations that trumped "businessman" and "philanthropist" were "father" and "Poppy." His son, Drew; daughter, Melissa Silver; and grandchildren sat facing the stage in the first row.

Silver remembered her father kissing her through the railings of their stairs every day before he'd leave for work. Drew Katz told mourners that he could simply stand at the podium and cry without saying a word.

"My father prepared me for everything in life except for this," Katz's son said.

Ethan Silver, Katz's 14-year-old grandson, took deep breaths as he spoke of his "Poppy Lewis," and the crowd gave him a standing ovation after he gathered his notes and walked offstage.

"My Poppy, he would tell me that the most important asset in life was time," Silver said. "He told me not to waste a minute of it because time is so precious."

When the speakers had finished, the lights dimmed and a video showed pictures of Katz through the years, with excerpts from the commencement speech he gave at Temple last month.

Katz's voice, his talk of hope, family and charity, mingled with the sobs in the crowd.

"Make time for those who need you," Katz said, "and for the causes you believe in."

On Twitter: @JasonNark

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