AUGUSTA – Bennett Katz, a former Maine Senate leader who was instrumental in establishing a state university campus in Augusta, died Thursday.
Katz, who was 89, died at a retirement home in Topsham where he had been living with his wife.
A bomber pilot during World War II, Katz became owner of a jewelry business in downtown Augusta and later a partner in a travel agency. He served as a Republican state senator in the 1960s and ’70s and became Senate majority leader.
During that time Katz and other Augusta business leaders formed a citizens committee that pushed for creation of the University of Maine at Augusta.
“If it weren’t for Bennett Katz, the university probably wouldn’t be here,” said UMA President Richard Randall. “He was a guiding force. He was a dreamer and doer both.”
Veteran state Sen. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, who served with Katz, said, “Partisanship was not in his nature.”
In a joint statement, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and former Gov. John McKernan, Snowe’s husband, said Katz “can truly be called the father of modern education in Maine, improving educational opportunities for all who seek them.”
The library at UMA is named for Katz, who also served as a state university system trustee.
His son is Augusta Mayor Roger Katz.