In the sports world, Lewis Katz used his ability to see the future to create one, helping build one of the most lucrative sports networks in the world.
At The Philadelphia Inquirer, he hoped to establish a future for the moribund newspaper after years of declining profits and shrinking news coverage.
That vision came to a tragic end Saturday night when the Cherry Hill native was among seven people killed on a flight that crashed as it departed from Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass., on its way to Atlantic City International Airport.
Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli and Freeholder Jeffrey Nash, in a statement released soon after the crash, said Katz "dedicated much of his life to giving back a tremendous amount of attention and resources" to his home region."It is with profound sadness we say goodbye to a former freeholder who labored to improve the city and county through his philanthropy and compassion,” the statement read.
Katz, 72, acquired full possession of the Philadelphia Media Network, which includes the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com, within the past week.
He and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest won a power struggle, outbidding a group led by Democratic powerbroker George Norcross. Their winning bid was $88 million, a victory that surprised Katz in a meeting with employees this week.
Much like he did when he presided over a New Jersey Nets team that won two Eastern Conference champions, Katz’s goal was to return the Inquirer to its former glory with in-depth journalism — the same kind of work that helped the newspaper win a bundle of Pulitzer Prizes in the 1970s and 1980s.
The organization was shrouded in turmoil for the past few years while under the partial ownership of Norcross. A simmering rivalry between Katz and Norcross came to a head when Katz filed a lawsuit against the group in the fall when Editor William K. Marimow was suddenly fired.
In his suit, Katz said Norcross needed his vote to enforce the termination. When a judge agreed, Marimow was reinstated.
Katz served as a Camden County Freeholder from 1972 to 1976 and, after that, worked to enhance Camden through philanthropic donations, collaborating with the First Nazarene Baptist Church on South Eighth Street and the Boys and Girls Club in Parkside that bears his name.
The Cherry Hill attorney, however, burst onto the public scene soon after he purchased the New Jersey Nets, when he played a major role in the television merger between the New York Yankees and the Nets that resulted in the creation of the regional YES sports network in 2002.
In 2012, News Corp. acquired nearly half of the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network, which broadcasts New York Yankees games. Forbes valued the network then at $3.4 billion.
He transformed the NBA’s Nets from an also-ran franchise in the late 1990s to a two-time Eastern Conference champion by hiring a managerial staff that traded for future hall-of-famer Jason Kidd. He also owned the NHL’s New Jersey Devils.
He grew up in Camden, where was raised by his mother after his father died.
The Katz Jewish Community Centers (Katz JCC) in Cherry Hill and Margate were named in honor of Katz’s parents, Betty and Milton Katz.
His ex-wife, Marjorie, contributed significantly to Jewish causes before her death. Lewis and Marjorie had two children together, but were separated before her death.
His son Drew is the Chief Executive of Interstate Outdoor Advertising, a Cherry Hill billboard company.
Recently, Lewis Katz was involved in a relationship with Inquirer City Editor and veteran investigative reporter Nancy Phillips.
He was a member of the Board of Governors for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. He built a Boys and Girls Club that now serves over 3,000 people in the Parkside neighborhood in which he grew up. He also gave money to rebuild churches in Camden.
He built his fortune by investing in the Kinney Parking Company.
According to his businessweek.com profile, he was also an investor at Gabriel Investments.
By: Anthony Bellano and Tom Davis (Patch Editors)
WJBK-TV | Fox 2
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