PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Lewis Katz was a savvy businessman and philanthropist. He was also mischievous, spontaneous and full of boyish fun.
Politicians, athletes and grieving family members recalled both sides of the Philadelphia newspaper co-owner at a 2 1/2-hour memorial service Wednesday.
Katz, 72, and six others died Saturday when his private plane crashed while trying to take off near Boston. The cause remains under investigation.
Days earlier, the sports team owner-turned-philanthropist had won an $88 million bidding war for the company that operates The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News.
The hundreds of mourners who gathered Wednesday reflected the incredible scope of Katz’s life.
They included ex-President Bill Clinton, professional athletes Shane Victorino and Dikembe Mutombo, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Comcast Corp. chairman Brian Roberts, comedian Bill Cosby, and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
“In the most unluckiest of times, ironically enough, I can’t feel luckier,” Katz’s daughter Melissa Silver said.
Raised by his widowed mother in working-class Camden, New Jersey, Katz rose to become a co-owner of the New Jersey Nets and New Jersey Devils. He made his fortune in parking lots, billboards and a sports cable TV network. He gave away millions, including $25 million to Temple University, which had given him a scholarship to attend college, and $15 million to Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law, where he graduated first in his class.
Along the way, he took a favorite New York cashier to the Super Bowl, brought Boca Raton waiters gambling in the Bahamas and treated high school friends on annual retreats.
“He never forgot people who started, as he did, with nothing,” Clinton said. “It bothered him that anybody with any dream would be left out or left behind.”
Clinton recalled being at an event when tennis star Andre Agassi described the school he opened in a low-income Las Vegas neighborhood. Katz instantly pledged to fund one in Camden.
It took five years, but the Katz Academy now operates two schools in the struggling city.
“If more of us acted on our better impulses, and then kept our commitments … it’d be a better world today,” Clinton said.
Katz Academy board director Marcella Dalsey also died on the plane, which had taken Katz and four friends to an event at Goodwin’s home.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell had skipped the outing, but he spoke of Katz’s impulsive nature, which once led him to redirect his plane to South Dakota so guests could see Mount Rushmore.
“The world will never be as much fun as it was Saturday afternoon,” Rendell said.
Two pilots and a flight attendant were also killed. They had worked together for Katz for a decade.
The flight recorder shows the plane never lifted off the ground before it plunged into a ravine and burst into flames, investigators said. It appears the crew tried to slow or abort the takeoff.
Katz, just hours earlier, had asked to visit Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts, where authors Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson are buried. In his pocket, he carried a book by the Roman philosopher Seneca about the shortness of life.
“Lewis was in terrific spirits that sunny afternoon,” said Goodwin, who said Katz was excited about the newspaper venture. “He told me he felt like a young boy again. … All his life, he retained the best qualities of being a little boy — above all, a sense of the wonder of life.”
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