Lewis Katz is a legendary Temple University Trustee who seemed to touch the lives of all who knew him. As a noted philanthropist, businessman, and proud Temple alumnus, Katz left a permanent mark on the university and the city of Philadelphia.
On May 31, 2014, Katz tragically passed away in the crash of a private jet plane that also took the lives of six others on board. Katz and his guests were travelling back to Atlantic City after attending a fundraising event in Concord, Mass. at the home of his long-time friends, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and Richard Goodwin. Friends and family were shocked and saddened by his untimely death at the age of 72.
Katz, a native of the Parkside section of Camden, New Jersey, was raised by his mother after his father died shortly after his birth. Katz went on to attend Temple University and made his second home in Philadelphia. As a dedicated member of the student council and student government, Katz influenced every student who met him. Specifically were his life-long friends Bill Cosby and Phillip Richards, whom he met through their involvement in student government.
“He was the most magnetic person that I had ever met,” said Richards, Chairman and CEO of North Star Resource Group and Temple University alumnus. “Other students just gravitated towards him because he was selfless. There was no ego, and when you talked to him, it was all about you, not him.”
The two became close friends when Richards was the student body president at Temple and Katz, one year below him, was his parliamentarian. They spent three years on student council together, and Richards continued to be amazed by Katz’ charismatic nature and his passion for the university.
“His gifts to the university are legendary, but what he contributed far exceeded the extraordinary amount of money he’s donated,” said Richards, who shares the same passion for Temple. “His greatest contribution was his love and passion for Temple; he loved the idea of Temple and the way of life at Temple.”
After graduating from Temple University in 1963 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, Katz attended Penn State Dickinson School of Law. He graduated first in his class from law school before beginning his career as a lawyer, and is one of the founding partners of Katz, Ettin & Levine law firm in Cherry Hill. Katz made a fortune investing in billboards, cable television, and Kinney Parking Systems, now the largest parking company in New York City. He was also the majority owner of five radio stations in Atlantic City and Cape May counties, and a minority owner of the New York Yankees. Formerly, Katz was the principal owner of the NBA New Jersey Jets and the NHL New Jersey Devils.
Days before his death, Katz and fellow philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest bought out their partners in the media company that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com for $88 million. Katz and Lenfest wanted to help Philadelphia’s struggling newspaper business by funding in-depth journalism.
Through all of his success, Katz never forgot his humble roots and gave back generously to his hometown of Camden and his second home in Philadelphia. He served on the board of the Boys & Girls Club of America and helped build two Boys & Girls Clubs in Camden. He also founded two charter schools in Camden, the Katz Academies, in 2012 and was especially interested in helping education.
Katz served on the Board of Trustees for Temple University and Dickinson School of Law. He was also on the Board of Directors for Temple Hospital University Health System and Fox Chase Cancer Center, and was the director of the Katz Foundation, which supports charitable, medical, and educational causes.
Most importantly, Katz never strayed his passion from his alma mater. As a Trustee since 1998, Katz wanted to influence positive change on the university. In May 2014, Katz announced his plans to donate $25 million to Temple University School of Medicine, which will now be named in his honor. Soon after, he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree for his immense support of the university.
Katz was known for his commitment to bettering education, student scholarship, medicine, and athletics, and served on the Athletics committee for the Board of Trustees.
“Lewis was always the first one to be there coming off a tough loss,” said Fran Dunphy, Temple University Men’s Basketball coach. “When you win and everyone’s patting you on the back, that’s not when you need someone there. When you’re struggling and need someone there, he always thought to reach out. Not only to me as the basketball coach, but to every sport.”
Dunphy considers Katz to be a close friend of his and admired his commitment to Temple and people in general.
“He made a lasting impression on me as a person. He’s a man of very humble beginnings, he made something of his life but was always ready to give back and make life better for others who didn’t have the same opportunities,” Dunphy said. “I admire that trait in him and I admire everything about him.”
Dunphy, along with many others, specifically remember Katz’ inspiring and heartfelt speech at Temple’s graduation commencement ceremony in May 2014, shortly before his death.
Katz is survived by his two children, Drew Katz, 42, and Melissa Katz, 45. Drew Katz has honored his father’s passion for Temple by taking his place on the Board of Trustees.
“Drew is a graduate of Georgetown and Stanford, but the only board he is on is Temple’s,” Richards said. “He knew how much his father loved the university and his immense commitment to it, so he’s doing it out of respect for his father.”
Richards, who also serves on the Temple Board of Trustees, describes Temple as “a way of life.”
“Nobody cares who your parents were, where you’re from, your religion, or ethnicity,” said Richards, who also came from humble beginnings. “People accept you for the human being that you are, and that’s why Temple is filled with some of the most brilliant, sought after people in the education world.”
Richards credits his spot on the Board of Trustees to Katz, who nominated him to the Board in 2009.
“I love Temple university, what it stands for, the diversity, the opportunities, and I love the fact that it has given me the great blessing of meeting this charismatic, magnetic, selfless, remarkable person, Lewis Katz,” Richards said. “He was my hero.”