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Monday, May 26, 2014

Robert Katz, 90

Robert Katz of Westport died May 25 at Norwalk Hospital from complications of Alzheimers Disease. He was 90.

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Robert Katz: Westport resident since 1978. Contributed photo

He was born Sept. 23, 1923 in Fauresmith, Orange Free State, South Africa the son of the late August and Frieda (Prager) Katz. He grew up in Fauresmith and Cape Town, South Africa.

During World War II he served as an air mechanic, air mechanic instructor, and non-commissioned officer in the South African Air Force. He was awarded the Africa Service Medal in 1944.

At age 21, he graduated from the University of Cape Town (UCT) with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, and was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at UCT.

He also designed factory machinery and worked for the Engineering Department of the Cape Town City Council from 1945 to 1948. While at the council, he designed and built a pavilion at the City Hall for the 1947 visit to Cape Town of King George V, Queen Mary and the Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth).

He later became a partner in a construction company, and then started his own company, Robert Katz Construction Company in 1956, heading the company until he left South Africa in 1978.

With more than 1,000 employees, the company constructed factories, apartment and office buildings, schools, shopping centers, theaters, clinics, an ice rink, and housing developments throughout the Cape Town area.

He did his own architectural design work, and the ultra-modern house he built for his family in 1957 was featured in Architect and Builder magazine. He invented and patented many time- and cost-saving construction techniques that he applied within his own company and also sold under license to companies in South Africa and abroad.

These include a number of prefabrication techniques, including System Katz and Rapid Beam Formwork. He also created a system for industrializing the construction of hyperbolic paraboloid shell roofs that enabled their durable steel forms to be built rapidly.

He developed a system for building portable homes constructed of precast concrete panels that were then transported to the building site. His system could put up a house in six hours, and construct eight apartments per day.

During this time, he also lectured at the University of Cape Town Business School, and took part in government budget symposia and economic conferences both in South Africa and abroad.

During the dark days of Apartheid, he was always kind and compassionate towards his employees, regardless of race. In 1978, he and his family immigrated to the United States, settling in Westport where he worked as a consultant to the Major Building Corporation.

During the energy crisis, he started his own company, Energy Cost Cutters, offering energy saving measures for residential and commercial buildings. Later, he teamed up with Zerelmy, a company that renovated government buildings in Washington, D.C.

In 1950, he married Ray Kriger, who had just qualified as a lawyer in Cape Town. Robert was a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather who enjoyed telling family stories, relaxing at the beach, traveling throughout Europe, and spending time with his family.

In his youth, he was a long distance runner and tennis player. His many interests included history, archaeology, classical music, art, architecture, science, technology and cosmology. Above all was his devotion to family.

He is survived by his wife, Ray, of Westport, his brother Wally Katz and wife Esther of Herzlia, Israel, his children Amanda and her husband Isadore Jermyn of Longmeadow, Mass., Joanne and her husband Scott Zeger of Baltimore, Md., Anton of New York City, Adrian and his wife Dana of Weston, and grandchildren Eva, Michael and Adam Jermyn, Max and David Zeger, Mia, Noah, Ty, Jonathan and Lara Katz.

He was predeceased by his sister Tillie Katz of Afula, Israel.

The funeral was held at Congregation Agudath Shalom cemetery in Stamford on Sunday, May 25.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association , the Lown Foundation or the American Heart Association.

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Posted 05/26/14 at 06:20 PM  Permalink



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