Eulogy for Bert
Margo Katz and Jessica Katz Starke
This is not a funeral… just so you know - Dad wanted an exhibit. Therefore, this can’t be a eulogy… just so you know. We’d like to thank three people who, on that terrible day, offered to go out in the middle of the hurricane to check on Dad: Joshua, Lloyd, and Judy – thank you. Thank you to Mary, Marissa, Keith and Andrew – everyone at Gallatin who made this exhibit a reality. Everyone who has reached out to us has brought us immeasurable comfort.
Dad was a quintessential New Yorker. He loved this city with all his heart, and when his heart gave out New York lost one its greatest champions. He had significant and long-standing relationships with friends and colleagues from all points in his life, and his New York friendships were his lifelines: Carnegie Hall with Judy, exhibits with Sharon, lunch with Jane, a new restaurant with Rick. Out-of-town friends could always count on Dad to take them to interesting shows and the latest restaurant he’d discovered. “He was my best friend,” is something we have heard more than once.
He was a deeply involved father. We have scores of family photos thanks to that Leica that hung around his neck. He was handy, too – building bookshelves everywhere we lived, and an entire kitchen playset for us when we were little kids, painted white and orange, and complete with oven knobs that turned. We thought he was the bravest man in the world because he refused to go into the basement when there were tornado warnings. In other ways, he was more hands-off, dealing with our emotional angst by saying, “Don’t worry so much. It’ll all work out.” He was more comfortable encouraging us to draw and live outside the lines. “Hope you find a job you enjoy,” he wrote to me in 1986, “but it’s only a job, a way to pay the rent. Use your considerable energies elsewhere where it really matters.”
Dad had an irreverent and playful sense of humor but his inability to hide contempt or irritation was a source of embarrassment to us when we were kids. As we grew up we learned to appreciate him for who he was. When the first grandchild was born, Margo asked Dad what he wanted to be called. “Professor Katz,” he replied irritated. Yet, despite his initial reticence about becoming a grandfather, all bets were off each time a new baby was put in his arms.
We loved the way he talked: Frankfurter. And caviar. Almond. He loved Uncle Peter’s scrambled eggs, and Stella Doro cookies, and caviar. Coffee, and pistachio nuts, and jello, and tongue sandwiches with mustard. He’d always say, “I’ll just have a little something,” which was invariably a meal. He cut his toast with a knife and fork like his father. He loved soup and insisted everyone should.
Early on in his life, Dad experienced and was shaped by profound tragedy. Because of this, he was an intensely private and stoic man with little patience for nostalgia, introspection or speculation. Yet, he felt and loved deeply, and could be shamelessly demonstrative.
His students tell us he enlightened them and changed their lives. He was many things to many people, but to his marrow – and we’re convinced he came into the world this way – Dad was an artist. This exhibit is just a fraction of his body of work and this is not the last you’ll hear of him; he was planning his next photography show when he died.
Dad had a way of making you play by his rules. Case in point, the Legend of Alan Jay. Every other week, after watching his beloved Sunday morning news shows, Dad would take the train to visit us. At some point, no one remembers exactly when, Dad started talking to the girls about his friend Alan Jay. Alan Jay had a way of mysteriously and randomly slipping around the corner or out the door the minute the girls turned their heads or entered the room so they never saw him. Yet still, Dad insisted Alan Jay was right here, just a minute ago. One day, a letter came for the girls. It was from Alan Jay. Written on letterhead, it read: “Dear Madelaine and Morgan: Trying to visit you as I quickly pass by. I know it is difficult as I move very fast. There is so much to do. Love from your elusive friend, Alan Jay.”
Dad was a character and he lived life on his own terms. We all knew him in our own way, yet he was the same person with all of us. Whether you just met him or knew him your entire life, he presented himself as he was – completely and utterly genuine. His death was sudden but it was peaceful and quick. Like Alan Jay, he was here one minute and gone the next. We should all be so lucky. Dad was dynamic. He was charming. He was funny. He was genuine. He was charismatic. He was a gem. We are so happy you are here with us today to honor and remember our Dad. He would have loved this.