Friday, September 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Lewis Katz's countless acts of kindness

In the three days since his tragic plane crash, there has been much written about my very good friend Lewis Katz. He has been called by many a "great man," and they point to his incredible life story and his amazing success in business, sports, and philanthropy. His story is amazing and his accomplishments in those fields are truly unique and remarkable.

Perhaps the most remarkable of all was his last accomplishment - winning, with his partner Gerry Lenfest, the auction for ownership of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. He and Gerry, both great businessmen, knowingly overpaid tens of millions of dollars of their own money to ensure that both papers would live on in Philadelphia and would have total journalistic freedom. I felt especially proud of this incredible act of civic responsibility because I persuaded Lewis to be part of the original group that bought the papers in 2012.

There are many things that can cause someone to be called great, and Lewis truly was, but not for all of the things that were widely known to the public. Lewis was a great man because of the things he did that never made the papers.

For those of us who knew him well, Lewis' acts of kindness were legendary. For example, when Lewis was in New York, he would make it a priority to visit a double amputee who would ask for money on Madison Avenue. Lewis would ask, "How much money did you make today?" When the man would say the amount, Lewis often would quadruple it, giving him two or three hundred dollars so that he would not have to sit in the extreme weather. That man never knew Lewis' name.

Once, when I was trying to help a woman who was in danger of quitting college because she couldn't afford the tuition increases, I asked Lewis to intervene with the admissions department. He did so, sending a check to cover the increase so she could graduate on time.

On Monday, Eric Aroesty told me another story about Lewis' generosity. Eric happened to call Lewis, who answered and said he was in Rittenhouse Square. When asked what he was doing, Lewis said he had just seen a lady crying on a bench and stopped to ask her what was wrong. She told him her husband had just lost his job and they had no income. Lewis told Eric he was taking her up to Temple University, where he was a longtime trustee, to get her a job. That never made the papers, but it allowed that family to stay intact.

Lewis was in a doctor's office one day and, while waiting, he was talking to a young teenager and his mom. The boy had cancer and the family had very little money. Lewis decided they should experience a Broadway show and dine at New York's finest restaurant on his tab. He never told them his name.

At his residence in Florida, Lewis belonged to the Boca Beach Club. Near the end of the winter, Lewis would take all of the waiters and pool attendants on his plane to the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, and give them each $1,000 to gamble with. Imagine how that trip brightened their lives and left them with wonder and awe.

His kindness was massive and often spontaneous. One day, he was riding home late at night in the midst of a brutal snowstorm. He saw three teenagers shoveling sidewalks in front of some houses. He stopped to talk to them and found out the homes belonged to senior citizens. Lewis reached into his wallet, gave them each $200, and told them they were great young men.

I told Andrea Mitchell Monday on MSNBC that for those of us who knew Lewis, the world had become a lot less fun than it had been on Saturday. Lewis could always make you smile. My wife Midge said that when you were meeting Lewis for dinner you smiled all day because you knew great fun awaited. He took great joy in ensuring others could experience some of the wonders and pleasures he had experienced. For his 50th high school reunion, he flew 25 people from his Camden High class to the Bahamas for a long weekend. They didn't pay a dime.

Lewis and I once helped raise money for Coaches with Cancer by auctioning off a trip on his plane to see the Nixon and Reagan presidential libraries in California. He paid for everything, and it netted the charity a princely sum. When the trip was over and they were about to return home, he asked the people on board if they had ever seen Mount Rushmore. He had just seen it for the first time himself a few months before. When five of the six people said they hadn't seen it, he diverted his plane to show them this national monument lit up at night - just because he wanted to share this experience with them.

In his graduation speech at Temple a few weeks ago, Lewis quoted John Wooden, who said, "You can never live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to thank you."

Rest in peace, Lewis, with the knowledge that you, more than almost any of us, lived many, many perfect days.

 


Contact former Gov. Ed Rendell via maya@edwardgrendell.com.

Ed Rendell
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