The thing about leadership in cities is that it’s so often driven by pure heart. The leaders whose legacies will live on? The Willard Rouses, the Ed Rendells, the Judith von Seldenecks, the John Streets? They lived their lives on the public stage, they stood for principles beyond the orbit of their own egos, they opened up veins, and in their acts of vulnerability and courage others were drawn to follow.
Technocrats don’t really fly in Philly. That’s why, when we decided to name our Corporate Citizen of the Year award after someone who embodied the type of passion and will and open-heartedness we think being a civic leader calls for, we settled on Lewis Katz, the late self-made businessman, proud Temple alum, lawyer, philanthropist, civic force, newspaper publisher, sports team owner, political benefactor, apostle of joy and quirky philosopher of life.
Katz, born poor and growing up fatherless in Camden, NJ, exuded staggering compassion and generosity for the have-nots throughout his 72 years. To him, business wasn’t just a way to make money; it was one of the ways to serve your fellow man.
Plus, he was an indelible character. Once, when I was editor of Philadelphia magazine, I returned from lunch to find he had commandeered my office, his feet up on the desk. He proceeded to regale me with uproarious stories from the street to the elite … for three hours. Another time, a mutual friend was suspicious of why this billionaire kept taking him out to breakfast.
What did he want? “I just want to be around people who are good for my soul,” Lewis Katz replied.
Nowadays, we need more leaders who talk about their souls. When his private plane crashed in 2014, taking his life and those of six others, it was a huge civic loss. Yes, Rendell, Bill Clinton, Cory Booker and others delivered stirring eulogies before thousands at a memorial service on Temple’s campus — “any idiot can win an election; in fact, most idiots do,” Katz once told Booker, the senator recounted.
But the best eulogy of Lewis Katz was given by the man himself, a mere 16 days before his death, at Temple’s graduation. The mix of good humor, compassion and pure heart? Here’s hoping today’s civic and business leaders use it as a roadmap and keep in mind this closing reminder, that summed up the abiding ethic of his life: “It’s never a perfect day, unless you help someone who can never hope to repay you.”
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