- October 12, 2011
Sidney Katz was born in a cold-water tenement flat on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on May 27, 1917. He had a front row seat to the 20th-Century and loved to regale his family with stories from his childhood.
His parents emigrated, separately, as teenagers, from Galicia (current day Poland) to Ellis Island in 1900 and eventually opened a neighborhood grocery, creating a new life for themselves as shopkeepers, at a time when their supplies were delivered by horse-drawn wagons. They had three sons: Al, Mack, and Sidney (the youngest), each of whom worked in the store to support the family. Sidney held multiple jobs before graduating from high school at the age of 16, including working at a printing press, as a movie theater usher, and carrying ice blocks up tenement stairs for refrigeration.
After graduating from high school, Sidney attended New York University for two years. While he dreamed of attending medical school, anti-semitism prohibited him from getting a coveted spot in the United States. As a result, he attended medical school at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Edinburgh, Scotland, which was the first time in his life that he could focus on school without working. He described this time as one of the happiest periods of his life.
Sidney completed his medical training by the age of 23. While awaiting space on a ship back to the US, he worked at a hospital in a region of southern England which was repeatedly strafed by the Nazis. He eventually obtained a berth on a ship across the Atlantic and narrowly escaped from Europe in 1940. He gave his medical diploma as security for the cost of his passage, promising that a friend from medical school would later pay to retrieve it.
Back in the United States, Sidney met Shirley Berglass, the daughter of a neighborhood jeweler on the Lower East Side. They fell in love and were married on June 29th, 1941. Sidney was drafted into the Army and served at a Veterans Administration Hospital in California. It was during those years that Sidney came to love the beauty of California, and often wondered out loud, “Why wouldn’t everyone move there?”
Despite Sidney’s fondness for the West Coast, he and Shirley decided they needed to return to the Bronx to complete his military service and be near family, as they started their own. Sidney and Shirley had three children and raised them in North Bergen and then Englewood in northern New Jersey.
Sidney became the President of the Medical Staff at North Hudson Hospital in Weehawken, NJ. It was during that time that Sidney’s moxie and surgical expertise enabled him to build a successful general surgery practice. He loved to live large, and as soon as Sidney had the financial means, he took the whole family to Europe on a six-week long trip to visit many of his old haunts from his time in medical school.
Sidney came to love the opera – which he heard for the first time at a Met concert, offered free to servicemen, at Lewiston Stadium. He could sing every word of La Boheme and large portions of many other operas. He marveled at how he had grown up without having heard a single note of music in his home, and then had the opportunity to listen to many of the greatest singers and orchestras in the world, in major opera houses.
Sidney also loved being a surgeon, but he knew it was time to retire after practicing for over 35 years. He and Shirley moved to Longboat Key, Florida in 1977, when it was a sleepy island full of pelicans. Over the 30 years they lived on LBK, Sidney and Shirley saw the island transform itself into a bustling location frequented by sun-starved vacationers. They lived at the Islander Club and then at The Pierre.
After 65 years of marriage, Shirley passed away in 2006. Sidney found himself adrift for the first time in his life. He attributed the love from his family and his tennis friends as getting him through his acute loss of Shirley. A wonderful gift came when he met Elaine Keating in 2007. She became his companion and love for the rest of his life. Together, they regularly attended classical music concerts, the opera, the ballet, and the theater. Sidney continued to play tennis well into his 100th year of life and to swim laps and work-out until his last days. He remained fascinated by the world around him, reading voraciously, listening to music, and watching Lincoln Center opera remotely.
Despite the challenges caused by Covid, Sidney and Elaine always managed to find joy. He reveled in his extended family: his three children and their partners– Alan and Sissel, Mark and Cheryl, and Jane and John; seven grandchildren and their partners –Ingrid and Alexi, Tony and Emily, Danny and Serena, Peter and Lauren, Jon and Lori, Hazel and Ricky, and Lauren; and five great grandchildren –Tomas, Augie, Esther, Frances, and Fiona.
Sidney Katz led with a sense of humor, joy and generosity, and he never hesitated to celebrate the daily pleasures that come with inhabiting this earth.
Sidney Katz led with a sense of humor, joy and generosity, and he never hesitated to celebrate the daily pleasures that come with inhabiting this earth. He relished every family milestone and never hesitated to express his love to all around him. Sidney closed his eyes for the final time on Sunday, December 12th at the age of 104, still in amazement at all he was continuing to learn.