Herb Katz and his more than 35 years of service to Santa Monica were variously remembered this week as:
• “a noble and honorable friend,”
• “a champion for Special Education programs in our schools,”
• “very, very strongly opinionated about everything,”
• “incorrigible” but with “a generous heart, positive spirit, and infectious laugh,”
• “gentle, wise, funny, and strong in his convictions,” and
• “a mensch.”
Funeral services were held Monday morning, January 12, and several people who had known Herb Katz offered their recollections in the course of the services; others spoke with the Mirror in separate interviews. Although space limits the comments in the Mirror print edition, more are included on the web at smmirror.com. All in all, they portray a man who was, in the words of Mayor Ken Genser, “one of Santa Monica’s great leaders and friends” who “will be greatly missed.”
Mr. Katz was a resident of the Sunset Park neighborhood. He was 78 years old. He is survived by his wife Brenda and daughter Dana, and is preceded in death by wife Ilona and sons Gregg and Glenn.
From the thousand voices singing “Amazing Grace” in St. Monica’s Church at the beginning of the service to the solo bagpipe rendition of the same song at the graveside ceremony, Herb Katz’s funeral was dignified, warm, magnificent, and home-town. Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson of St. Monica’s and Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom presided and offered prayers and readings. The church was packed beyond its seating “capacity” of 900.
“You may be wondering,” said Msgr. Torgerson, “about a funeral for Herb Katz and Saint Monica’s Catholic Church. It wasn’t my idea; it was Herb’s great desire. And we are blessed to honor that request today.”
The recessional was led by bagpiper Mike McNicoll of the L.A. Scots Band, a Marine Corps color guard (Katz was a Marine veteran), police and firefighter pallbearers, the Katz family and close friends, and City officials.
At the cemetery, the SMPD provided a 21-gun salute, “Taps” was bugled, and the flag covering the coffin was ceremoniously folded and presented to Herb Katz’s widow, Brenda.
The reception at Shutters on the Beach featured camaraderie and reminiscences and family photos assembled by Herb’s daughter, Dana. One of the guests commented to this reporter that it felt more like a wedding than a funeral. Herb would have liked that.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that he had heard Katz called “curmudgeonly,” but added that he found that curmudgeonly behavior was often an attempt to mask true compassion. He called Herb Katz “a mensch.”
Architect Michael Folonis: “A noble and honorable friend,” and on behalf of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, “A mentor, teacher, and role model.”
Suzanne Frick, who worked with Herb Katz on City planning issues, called him “incorrigible,” but with “his generous heart, his positive spirit, and his infectious laugh.”
Chamber of Commerce President Laurel Rosen said, “He was gentle, wise, funny, and strong in his convictions.”
At the funeral service, Msgr. Torgerson said that “at the very end – at the door” Herb Katz said to him: “I believe. I believe in you. I believe in this great City. I believe in God. I believe I will live.”
Herb Katz, Reminiscences
One of the most unusual and moving Council meetings was the night the parents of special education students came to the Council for help. Herb listened to them with tears in his eyes. The issue resonated with Herb because both of his sons were special education students who had lost their sight due to an illness which eventually claimed their lives, one at 13 and one at 20. In tmemory of his son, who played in the Samohi band, he and Ilona started the Glenn Katz scholarship.
After Herb got sick, he and I spoke about once a week. When I last visited him in St. John’s we talked about sports and he said he rooted for the Trojans, where I went to school, unless they were playing UCLA, where he’d been an undergraduate. When I left him that day I said that I’d talked too much and he told me how much he’d loved our conversations.
He was a good person. He was dedicated to serving Santa Monica and he was thrilled by the number of votes he had received and the support the community gave him in this last election. He was a generous and courageous man.
My experiences with Herb go back many years. I’d describe him as fair and even-handed and I respected his opinion. I used to see him regularly at Bob’s Market because my office is only a half a block away. I know how much architecture meant to him and I saw him at Bob’s Market when he received the honor of being a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. He played down my congratulations in a self-deprecating way but it was, in fact, a great honor. Here’s what the AIA said in their decision to elevate him to being a Fellow of the AIA: “Through four decades of thoughtful revitalization, planning, and attention to environmental issues, Herb Katz enhanced the unique character of Santa Monica and created a model for the American city in the new millennium.”
Herb was a great friend of the college. Just last year, while he was mayor he also served as president of the Santa Monica College Foundation. He lived his life fully in the present, but he also kept an eye on the future. Santa Monica College is, and will be, a better place because of Herb Katz.
For me he was no nonsense. Whenever I called him, he called right back. He knew education mattered. He cared about elementary school students, high school students, and college students. He had uncommonly good common sense and didn’t waste time with things that weren’t important. I’m really sorry he’s gone.
I liked Herb because he had a sense of humor. The business is serious and the decisions can be tough. My fondest memories of Herb are from our closed sessions where, even when the decisions were hard, he would keep us laughing and I would encourage him to do so. On the more serious note of the City’s businesses, his knowledge of the built environment and how to create of a vibrant and exciting city were great gifts to our City. I’m going to miss the twinkle in his eye, the fun we had together, and his great love of Santa Monica.
There is a side of Herb, a rather quiet side, that gives a great foundation to all his public service. I visited with Herb during his stays at St. John’s and the man I got to know was one very courageous spirit willing his sick body to hold out a little longer. Herb knew what faced him; God knows he had seen enough of what cancer can do, but he was determined to not allow it to take over his generous spirit. So he would greet me with that grin of his and say, “Well, young lady, what’s up for today? Are you going to be praying for me?” His courage was uncommon and it found its motivation in wanting those around him to be comfortable. It takes a great heart to be so concerned with the feelings of others at a time of personal pain.