He died at his desk, as he always said he would. His staff thought he was asleep. He suffered no pain.
I can not begin to describe what Grandpa meant to me, what a remarkable man he was. He always wore a suit, because he believed that a gentleman must always look his best. And he was a gentleman. At his memorial yesterday, I learned just how many people loved him. Every person he met, he made feel like they were the most special person on the planet. He had that gift. He loved everyone. His smile lit up a room.
His honesty and integrity were his most valued traits. Everyone who spoke yesterday mentioned it.
The room was filled to capacity at 200 people, and as person after person got up to share their memories of my Grandpa, I realized what an amazing man Grandpa truly was.
The best I can do here is to share the speech that I gave yesterday.
I love you, Grandpa. I will miss sending you my blog posts, and reading your comments on them.
Grandpa said not to bother having a memorial for him because he didn't think anyone would show up.
I've been reading some old newspaper articles about Grandpa these past few days. They're from over 40 years ago, but the man they describe is definitely my Grandpa. One says he was“always perfectly groomed and fashionably dressed, and with a style that is witty and articulate”
. It also says he had a“natural proclivity to get involved in things, to make pastimes and pleasures out of projects....that many consider chores, or at best, necessary obligations.” . That right there pretty much defines him. Not only was he involved, he loved being involved. It was his hobby and his passion. The list of committees, organizations, and boards that my Grandpa was a part of goes on for half a page. And in many of those cases he was founder, Director, or Chairman. In his own words,“Some people play golf and some play tennis. I tried golf and got tired of rolling the little ball over 18 holes because I never seemed to be able to hit it into the air.” That was my Grandpa. He always wanted to hit the ball into the air. The sidelines, the good-enough, the average, was not what he was made for. He was voted the Century City Man of the Year in 1972, the same year he was president of the Century City Chamber of Commerce, which he helped found. And in 2009 he was awarded the honorary title of Champion of that same Chamber of Commerce, in thanks for all that he had done for it.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of things I discovered about the man who was my grandpa. In some ways I feel obligated to share everything I learned about him, to honor him by reciting his entire life story.
Besides the fact that we'd be here until tomorrow, I decided that I wanted to share with all of you, the man as I knew him. Not Harold L. Katz, CPA, nor Harold Katz, the Man from Century City, but just simply, Grandpa. (So here goes).
He wasn't the type of grandfather who crawled around on the floor with us kids. But his love for my brothers, cousins, and I was obvious nonetheless. He showed his love in his own way and it was a beautiful and precious thing. He and Jan made the drive out to Thousand Oaks for every single talent show, play, or piano recital my brothers and I were in. No matter how casual the event, no matter if we were only on stage for 30 seconds, they were always there. And not only were they there, but they were endlessly enthusiastic. Grandpa thought that his grandchildren were the best at everything. The smartest person, the most talented musician was “almost” as good as his grandkids. Following every performance, he would treat us to our own rave review, praising our talent, our presence, our delivery and expression. Grandpa was our number one fan, even when our performance may not have entirely deserved it.
Grandpa used to say how when I was born I was the only person who could get him to leave his desk. I was the first grandchild and he would come over to my parents' little apartment, hold me on a pillow on his lap, and just stare at me for hours. Every year when he called me on my birthday, or came out for a birthday dinner, he would tell me that story, beaming the whole time. He also liked to tell the story of how when I was born he realized that all the numbers of my birth added up to eight. I was born on the third day of the 5th month (5 and 3 is 8). The year was 1988. The time of my birth added up to eight, as did my weight. Grandpa thought that was the coolest thing and was very proud at having been the one to notice it.
The other day I realized that I could return the favor. I found a number pattern of my own. Together, my Grandpa and I were elevens. He was born in '33, I in '88. We were 55 years apart. He died on the 22nd of the 11th month, when he was 77 and I was 22. All multiples of eleven. I think he would have gotten a kick out of that.
At my Bat Mitzvah, my high school graduation, and my college graduation, Grandpa gave me the same piece of advice. He said that whatever I chose to do with my life, I should choose something that made me happy. He said it was of the utmost importance that I wake up every morning excited to get out of bed. He did. He understood the importance of living every moment to its fullest.
At my college graduation this past June, Jan told me that Grandpa was so proud of me, his suspenders were in danger of popping, and it certainly appeared to be so. He was beaming so hard the whole day that it made you smile just to see it. The memory of that day is one I'm holding tight to. On that day I felt his love and pride for me so strongly it was almost tangible. I'm so glad he was able to be there.
The way Grandpa lived his life was inspirational. Here was a man in his 70s, going out dancing every Saturday night until the small hours of the morning. When the younger people had given up and gone to bed, Grandpa and Jan would still be out there, cutting up the dance floor. This wasn't an old man. His years were an unimportant detail. He worked, sometimes until 10 o'clock at night. He wrote constantly; letters to every editor under the sun, articles and editorials, and responses to articles he read. My inbox is going to be a whole lot emptier now, and I know that's also true for many of you in this room. My Grandpa liked to have fun, and have fun he did. He recently told me that he had finally figured out what CPA stood for: Certified Party Animal.
In the past year Grandpa and I started to build a very special relationship. I was getting politically involved on campus and suddenly Grandpa and I had endless things to talk about. We'd send emails back and forth, exchanging articles, news, and ideas. I started a blog to record the events on my campus, and although I only wrote two posts, Grandpa would tell anyone who would listen about his granddaughter, the writer. In the past month or so I started writing again, much to his delight. We attended an ACT! For America event together and later he asked for the notes I had taken. He said he was going to write an article from my notes and it would be signed “by Natalie and Harold Katz”. He wrote to me that“the thought of co writing a piece is beyond words. I'm overwhelmed.”
He didn't get to write that piece.
I also started joining Jan and Grandpa occasionally at their Monday night haunt-a restaurant called Prego. This was really the first time I had spent quality one on one time with my Grandpa. He introduced me to all of his friends, and even to people I'm not sure he knew! He and I would talk the night away, and he would stay by my side until he saw me safely into my car at the end of the night.
I had always loved my Grandpa, but now we were buddies, partners in crime. The timing was perfect. I was done with college, living at home, and had more time to spend with him. We emailed each other constantly, consulted each other on political issues, and I was joining him and Jan at Prego.
Barely a month ago he emailed me to ask if I was joining them that night. At the end of his email, he wrote, “I have always loved you and I didn't think that love could ever be more than it was originally but as we now spend time together the love is stronger and just so wonderful....I am so grateful that I lived long enough to become part of your adult life.”
I'm also grateful beyond words that I had this time with him, but it ended far, far too soon. We were only getting started.
The last time I was with him at Prego he leaned over to me and said, “If I died tomorrow, I would want you to know one thing. Your Grandfather has had a lot of fun.” Earlier in the day, he told me, he had felt too tired to go out, more like a 77 year old than the 47 year old he knew he was. But he dragged himself out, and now, sitting at the table with me, he was back to feeling like himself. The lesson, he told me, was to make sure to get as much joy out of each day as it is possible to attain. That was the rule that he lived by.
I'd like to leave you all with this message, on behalf of my Grandpa. If he were here, he would tell you all to make the most out of every moment, to always choose joy, and to always have fun. He was a living, breathing, bigger-than-life example of his own philosophy right up until the minute he died. May we all have the energy, the drive, and the happiness that he did.