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.
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.
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.
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.