Lewis Katz Remembered by Penn Staters

Jun 3, 2014

Lewis Katz

A memorial service will be held Wednesday in Philadelphia for businessman, lawyer and philanthropist Lewis Katz, who died in a plane crash on Saturday. He was a graduate of Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law, and someone very special to the Penn State Community.

“He graduated first in his law school class, in 1966."

Rod Kirsch, Senior Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations at Penn State, remembers Lewis Katz as a very smart guy.

“And in talking to other alumni that I’ve got to know who knew him, I gather that he graduated first by a considerable distance. I think education was a high, important value to him.”

Katz practiced law, but branched out into different business ventures to make his fortune. He invested in everything from parking garages to sports teams. Recently, Katz and a business partner bought the Philadelphia Inquirer. Kirsch says that was his style.

“He had an idea a minute.  And I think his success in the business world was because of his creativity, because of his level of intelligence.  Because he was a very engaging guy.”

Kirsch, like many others who knew Katz, remembers not just his business instincts, but also his warmth.

“He was playful.  He had a good sense of humor.  Liked to tease people in a good way, a good-natured way. He was a very skillful business man, but I think there was a soft side and a big heart to him, that was nice to see."

Katz was also a generous philanthropist, who made a 15 million dollar gift to Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law.  As a result, there are buildings at both branches of Dickinson Law School that bear the name of Lewis Katz:  at University Park, and in Carlisle, where Gary Gildin works.

“As we walk to work we walk upstairs and see Lewis Katz Hall emblazoned on the outside of the Law School, and as we push the front door it says Lewis Katz Hall, so we actually have this tangible reminder about his affection and contribution for the law school.“

Gildin is Senior Associate Dean at Dickenson School of Law. He remembers the way Katz took an interest in people.

“One might expect somebody who’s had such success in the business world to have certain airs about him. But Lewis was a down-to-earth person.  He seemed to just want to know about you and relate to you on a human level.  But it was like you were a friend from the first conversation.”

“I did become good friends with him over the decade we knew one another, and I feel incredibly fortunate for that.” 

That’s Philip McConnaughay, Dean of China’s Peking University School of Transnational Law.  He is a former Dean of Penn State’s Dickinson Law School.  He agrees with Gildin that Katz never knew a stranger.  McConnaughay recalls a lunch he had with Katz at a deli in Camden New Jersey.

“Lewis knew everyone in the restaurant by their first name.  When we finished, he said “Let’s go for a drive.” For the next two hours he drove me around Camden, describing each neighborhood, pointing out the Jewish community centers and boys and girls clubs he had built in honor of his mother, and explaining the role each now played in educating and supporting local Camden kids.”

Katz grew up as a poor kid in Camden. His father died when he was about a year old, so he was raised by his mother.  And McConnaughay says Katz adored her.

“His love and his admiration and his gratitude toward his mother was evident in every word he spoke.”

McConnaughay shares a story about how Katz honored his wife as well.

“I remember taking Lewis to visit possible sites in University Park for a new law school building.  There were five or six possibilities.  When we finally arrived at the site where the Lewis Katz building now stands, he looked across Park Avenue and said, ‘Those are East Halls, right?” I said he was right. ‘That’s where Margie lived when I first met her.  I’d like to build in this site.’”

Katz’s wife, Marjorie Katz, died of complications from a stroke just last year.

“On another visit to Camden, Lewis’s assistant told him that his son, Drew, had just closed a very difficult but very successful business deal.  A few minutes later, Drew walked out of his office.  Lewis walked over to Drew, pulled him in for a big, long hug and kiss on the forehead and said ‘I’m so proud of you, Drew.  I love you.’”

McConnaughay says he has many more stories like that from the 10 years he knew Katz.

“They’re all about his love of family, his love of friends, and his love of community.”

The Penn State Community will have the buildings named for Lewis Katz for a long time to come. But to those who knew him, it’s the big heart of the man who built those buildings that endures.  I’m Kristine Allen, WPSU.