by Ron Vitale
I don't often talk about my work because I like to keep my public and private life separate. Those who know me are aware that I am a director on the strategic marketing and communications team at Temple University. Yesterday I attend the memorial service for Lewis Katz who tragically died in a plane crash last weekend. Katz was a businessman, philanthropist and a man who touched the lives of many. I really didn't know much about him. Yes, being from Philadelphia, I knew that he co-owned the city's Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, but I didn't know that he used to own a NBA team, had been a lawyer and that he spent a lot of time helping others.
I simply knew that he was a famous Temple University alum but I didn't think much more of him than that. But yesterday Temple had a memorial service for Lewis Katz and I was in awe of the speakers: Neil D. Theobald (President, Temple University), Ed Rendell (former governor of Pennsylvania), Bill Clinton (former President), Tom Corbett (governor of Pennsylvania), Cory Booker (US Senator), Michael Nutter (Mayor, Philadelphia) and comedian Bill Cosby.
I cannot do the memorial service justice in the few words that I have here, but I want to share how important it was to me to hear such fantastic talks all in the course of three hours. To hear family, friends and so many from around the country speak of Lewis Katz and of his life put my own in perspective. What mattered to me was not the money or the power that Katz had earned over the years, but who he was, where he came from and what he made of his life.
Katz grew up poor in Camden with his mom who raised him on her own. He received an anonymous scholarship to attend Temple University and then went on to make a name for himself. What makes all of this so surreal is that I heard Lewis Katz speak at Temple University's commencement three weeks ago today. I saw him receive an honorary degree and heard him give an amazing speech to the 2014 graduating class. And a few weeks later, I was at his memorial service.
We never know when it's our time to die. We don't. But in listening to the stories about Lewis Katz, I have reflected on my own. When I hear how Katz would help strangers (give large tips to a waiter who was trying to get through college, or pay for a student's college and even take a cashier at a restaurant on his private plane to the Super Bowl), I look at my life and can relate.
I also grew up in difficult times. My mom raised my brother and I are our own and if it weren't for my grandparents' help, I don't know where we would have been. At one point in my life, I remember my mom getting food stamps and the shame I felt in knowing that we didn't have the money that other families had. How I was laughed at by the other kids in gym for wearing a pair of gold sneakers that came from the flea market. Over time, my family's financial means slowly became better and I became the first person in my family to go to college. I took out loans, applied for scholarships and grants and worked my tail off. I worked, worked and worked.
But now I have my degrees and am thankful for a great job working with fantastic colleagues in a university that has that "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" mentality. I get that. I didn't know that Lewis Katz had had to do the same thing when he was young. So I have taken all of this in, his commencement speech, all the talks I heard yesterday at the memorial service and it boils down to a really simple thing. President Clinton, Senator Booker and Bill Cosby all said it. They used different words, but the meaning is the same: Help others.
To conclude his talk three weeks ago at Temple's commencement ceremony, Lewis Katz said this: "[UCLA basketball coach John Wooden] said one thing that has resonated with me for as long as I've lived. He said, 'You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.'" Here, listen to Katz say it. Trust me, it's worth the minute of your time. I really was touch by that. It made me think about my life, what I'm doing and what I want to do to help others.
Bill Cosby put it simply: It doesn't matter if you have a lot of money or a little bit of money. Volunteer your time to help others, give a dollar or two, but don't wait for the rich and powerful to come in and save the world. We need to do it ourselves. We need to make change. Change doesn't have to happen from on high, but from within and in small ways.
Isn't that a revolutionary and wonderful thought?
I am still thinking about all that's happened in the last few weeks and I expect I'll remember yesterday memorial service for the rest of my life. Now that I am in a better position to help others, how can I do that? What can I do? My friends and family know me, but you don't. I recently read a book that said that each day we can make simple decisions to be helpful to others: Don't cut the person off when driving, help someone who needs direction, and open your heart to others. If each time we met others, we asked ourselves how could we be of help, image how that would transform our world.
It doesn't take mountains to move for change to take place. No, it can be one simple action. One simple decision to help another. Each of us can do that today. We don't need millions to do it, we only need a change of heart.