What they’re saying about Lewis Katz, the Inquirer co-owner who died Saturday night in a plane crash in Massachusetts:
Across the region, in Camden, where he built schools and Boys & Girls Clubs, to Philadelphia, where he bought and supported the major newspapers, to North Jersey, where he owned the basketball Nets and hockey Devils, staggered friends and family struggled to accept the news that he was gone.
Mr. Katz’ reach, influence and ideas touched almost every sphere of local public life, from media, to law, to politics, to health care, to education and philanthropy. His death occurred four days after he and fellow investor H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest teamed to win a dramatic, climactic owners-versus-owners auction for control of The Inquirer, The Daily News and Philly.com, a victory that many believed had assured the future of Philadelphia journalism for years to come.
Smart, decisive, kind, loyal, savvy, creative, eccentric, empathic, inimitable, a brilliant advisor, the best friend, a fierce advocate – Mr. Katz embraced his wealth and the power that came with it, while at times seeming surprised and amused that a kid from Camden could walk with presidents.
Among the many people mourning the death of Lewis Katz is his longtime friend, comedian Bill Cosby. Cosby shared some of his recent memories of Katz with CBS 3 Eyewitness News on Sunday.
“We always competed in a friendly way,” Cosby said. “He wanted to be funny, and it was competitive. The two of us would go at it personally, joking and saying things about each other.”
Cosby and Katz were both at Temple’s Commencement Ceremony last month, where Cosby said Katz made him proud by getting a big laugh out of the crowd.
Ed Rendell said he talked with Katz on Tuesday shortly after he and a business partner, Gerry Lenfest, made the winning bid for the Inquirerand Daily News, agreeing to pay $88 million for control of the financially strapped morning and afternoon papers—a $33 million premium over what New Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, along with Katz and Lenfest, had paid for the media properties only two years ago.
“Lewis knew he had to do the right thing, and he way overpaid for the papers,” Rendell said. “He did it because he wanted to keep the papers in Philly, and he didn’t want to close down the Daily News, and wanted to keep it free of any interference.”
On Tuesday after the auction, “Lewis and I did a postmortem…I’d never seen him happier than he was this week,” Rendell went on. Katz’s son Drew—who is named after the legendary Washington columnist Drew Pearson, for whom the elder Katz worked as an assistant when he was college student—will take his father’s place on the board of the newspapers’ parent company.
H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, co-owner of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com, said Sunday that Drew Katz would replace his father on the board of the media company.
Drew Katz, who divides his time between Center City and Manhattan, is a graduate of Stanford University law school, and has been involved in the outdoor advertising business for 18 years. He is chief executive officer of Cherry Hill-based Interstate Outdoor Advertising, which controls 1,100 billboards across the country. He also is involved in philanthropic projects, as was his father.
After the sale of the newspapers and Philly.com on Tuesday to a partnership of Lenfest and Lewis Katz, it was assumed that the younger Katz would be involved in some manner with the company.
The three additional passengers were Anne Leeds, a retired preschool teacher from Longport, N.J., friends said Sunday; Marcella Dalsey, executive director of the Drew A. Katz Foundation; and Susan K. Asbell, who served with Dalsey on the strategic planning committee of the Boys & Girls Club of Camden County, N.J.
Three crew members, yet to be identified, also perished in the fiery crash. Removal of seven bodies from inside the jet was completed Sunday evening, according to an official briefed on the investigation.