Remembering Greg Katz

Gregory Katz — a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, noted raconteur, lover of music and baseball and cigars, and longtime (though sometimes part-time) Westporter — died yesterday in London.

He was 67 years old. He had been ill with cancer for several months, and contracted COVID-19.

Greg Katz, in the Staples High School 1971 yearbook.

He made his first headlines not as a writer, but as an athlete. In 1970 Katz — a Staples High School junior, an excellent catcher and the proud possessor of a head of shoulder length, curly hair — petitioned the Staples Governing Board to remove dress code restrictions on athletes. He called them “arbitrary standards of appearance,” which exacerbated social divisions at the school.

After an intense debate, the measure passed 11-6. Katz was free to try out for the team coached by  Brian Kelley, an ex-Marine who still looked the part.

After the University of Vermont, traveling throughout Latin America and writing for the Provincetown Advocate, Katz was in New York City in December 1980.

John Lennon was shot inside the Dakota. Katz’s parents — who owned a home across from what is now Joey’s By the Shore (Elvira’s), where Katz grew up — also had an apartment there.

Katz was the only journalist who could enter the building. He interviewed, among others, the doorman who was witnessed the murder. His story ran in Rolling Stone magazine — the famous edition with Annie Liebovitz’s photo of a naked Lennon and Yoko Ono on the cover.

After writing for USA Today and serving as Latin America bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News (and earning a share of the 1994 Pulitzer for international reporting, with a 14-part series on violence against women around the world) as well as Europe and Middle East bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle, he joined the Associated Press in London. In 2013 he was named acting bureau chief. He also appeared frequently on the BBC’s “Dateline London.”

He wrote about popes, politics, refugees and Queen Elizabeth. But he returned to Westport every summer, spending many weeks in a house he and his wife Bea Sennewald owned on Saugatuck Shores, with their daughter Sophia.

Katz loved those summers. He learned to sail at Longshore, and owned a kayak that he often paddled to Cockenoe.

Greg Katz (Photo/Bill Armstrong)

He went to as many baseball games as he could, too. (Of course, he loved covering the Yankees-Red Sox game in London last year.)

He and Bea hosted friends from everywhere, including some of the most noted journalists on the planet. He spent many happy hours on his deck, watching the water and nature.

Neighbor Bill Armstrong said, “His one great fear was that he’d be enjoying his Westport summer — but would get the dreaded call that Her Majesty The Queen had passed away. Greg would then have to rush back to London and spend weeks covering the state funeral and the coronation of Charles.”

Several times a summer, I joined him for breakfast at the Sherwood Diner. He asked about Westport; in turn, he’d chat about his work, covering the latest crisis in the Mideast or Parliament. He was not dropping names; he was describing his life, and what he loved (and hated) about it.

Greg Katz (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The AP’s story on his death quotes Anne-Marie O’Connor, a London-based journalist and author, who covered Haiti and Cuba with Katz in the 1990s. She said, “in addition to being a wonderfully curious reporter, Greg could be riotously funny, and his sense of humor elevated the esprit de corps of his colleagues on the road.”

Ian Phillips, AP’s international news director, described him as a “suave, waistcoat-wearing, straw boater-wearing, gravelly-voice gent … an American abroad but my God how he assimilated! … He managed to capture so much about British society in his writing — the nuance, the singularity, the humor, the tradition.”

He was “a bon vivant” with an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and baseball, added Richard Boudreaux, of the Wall Street Journal. “He could recite the starting lineup of just about any Yankees team going back to the late 1950s, when he was only a kid.”

Greg never lost that “kid” spirit. He had it on the Staples baseball team, and at Woodstock. He had it wherever he wrote, around the globe.

And of course right here by the water, in his home town of Westport.

(For the AP obituary of Greg Katz, click here. For an “06880” story on Greg Katz’s coverage of Brexit, click here.)

Greg Katz

26 responses to “Remembering Greg Katz

  1. What a remarkable story and cool guy! RIP. Dan, just curious…did he make the team at Staples?!

    • No one can remember!

    • Patrick Eastin

      I believe Greg did make the baseball team and played with my brothers Jeff and Greg.

    • Dominick Romano

      He did. There was one game where we were down by a couple of runs and it was raining lightly, not quite enough to call the game. The umpire called Greg up to the plate to hit, but Greg protested that his glasses were fogged. After each pitch he’d slowly walk back to the bench, wipe his glasses thoroughly, then slowly return to the batters box to wait for the next delivery. It was the longest at bat, time wise, for anyone all season long as he tried his best to induce a weather postponement. It didn’t come, but I’ll never forget his gamesmanship.

  2. Susan Siegelaub Katz

    Danny – you must know how much Greg would have hated being described as “assimilated”! Can’t wait for a time we can all be together telling stories. Thanks for this.

  3. RIP, Greg. An amazing collection of successful and talented personalities came out of our 1971 Staples class. – Mike

  4. Thanks Dan, such an incredible life he lived.

  5. Very sorry to read this. Greg unquestionably was one of the coolest and most fascinating people in our class—and a very nice guy as well.

    Re sports: Greg definitely played on our JV soccer team at Staples and was the star goalie on the Long Lots soccer team in 1967 when it won the jr high championship—and he was a huge factor in its upset win over Coleytown. I thought he did play baseball for Staples; I imagine Doc Davidson, Steve Baumann, or Steve McCoy would know for sure (and, if so, whether it was on varsity or JV). Whether he played or not, I do recall he was a very good baseball player.

    My condolences to his family.

  6. Beautifully said Dan. When I saw this morning that I had received a 2am email from Bea, I knew what it would say. Greg became an integral member of our crew on Ananda over these past years. An avid learner of sailing and, of course, an incredible light of humor in the cockpit. We’re going to miss
    you Ace.

  7. Steven McCoy

    I have fond memories of Greg as our catcher on the 1971 Staples baseball team. His long hair coming out under his catcher’s helmet I can still see today. A wonderful, fumy teammate.

  8. I can still see him as he concentrated on something, like throwing out a base runner with his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth..RIP Greg.

  9. Bobbie Kelman

    Thank you for this, Dan. You captured something essential about Greg.

    • Thanks, Bobbie. Greg was a great one. I learned so much from him, and grew so much (and laughed a lot). My condolences to your family.

  10. Madeline Bayliss

    Wonderful story. You’ve caught his spirit that I saw in the brief time I knew him at Staples.

  11. Ken Bernhard

    A very nice story. Well done. Ken Bernhard

  12. Roseann Spengler

    WOW. What a guy! Great story. Thanks for sharing it, Dan.

  13. Jim Bacharach

    So sorry to hear of his passing. My condolences to his family and many friends. I seem to recall he was announced as “Gregory Swoboda Katz” at his Staples commencement.

  14. Thank you, Dan

  15. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    This is such an interesting story and what an amazing person. I come at it from another angle. I knew the Katz’s when they lived on Narrow Rocks Road. I was a friend and classmate of Stephanie’s, Greg was just her younger brother to me. I had no idea of his upcoming greatness.
    I’m not sure when they moved across town, maybe before Steffi and I were in Junior High. I did catch up with her a little at Staples but we had taken different paths. Not to take any attention away from Greg, when I read his obituary, I was saddened to see that Stephanie had died last year. I did not see her obituary. She came to our 25th reunion. I also reconnected with her a few years ago, but only briefly.
    I also remember their mother, Janine. She had a boutique downtown. She was wonderful, very French, and I remember my mom having a friendship with her while they were still living on Narrow Rocks Rd.
    My sympathy to Greg’s family. We had a great neighborhood of kids at Narrow Rocks and Mayflower Parkway and I am grateful for the memories that this has brought u.

    • Thanks, Bonnie. Yes, Stephanie died last year. Their brother Michael Katz — a long time Compo Cove resident — died a few years earlier.

      Greg talked about that great Narrow Rocks house. But they didn’t move far, in the early to mid 1960s — Hillspoint Road, across from Elvira’s (Kenny’s) is really just around the corner.

      • Bonnie Scott Connolly

        Thanks, Dan. That timing sounds right. We were in 9th grade in 1964.I think it must have been when Michael died that I reached out about Stephanie and that was when we reconnected. She told me she had MS. Thanks again for such a great article.

  16. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    We had a Michael Katz in the 1958 class at Staples. Is this the same Michael? He was a wonderful athlete.

  17. Dan, wonderful post and tribute.

  18. Alan Bravin

    Thanks for this tribute Dan. Very sad to hear. I had lost touch with Greg after high school. But I have very vivid memories of him on our Staples intramural flag football team. When we had the ball, Greg would line up as our halfback, maybe 20 yards behind the ball. With his wild hair flying, he would start running towards the line and would be running full speed when he got the ball He was very hard to tackle and quite a site, I ‘m sure, for the other team as he came barreling through the line. Not sure where our team finished in the standings, but that is my most memorable vision of Greg and our team. RIP