Bert Katz, my father-in-law, celebrated his 90th birthday in November 2016. Bert loved sports and was a passionate Yankees fan, so it was no wonder that over the years, he was an avid listener to WFAN radio and, in particular, the afternoon show hosted by Mike Francesa.
Bert had health issues in his later years that limited his mobility, and when he lost his vision three years ago, his attachment to his radio and Francesa became more pronounced. He just loved listening to Mike talk about sports and his Yankees each afternoon. Those hours brought him so much pleasure.
Of course, Mike will be leaving Dec. 15 after 30 years at the station. Mike lives in the same community where I work on Long Island, and I have gotten to know him over the past 20 years. So when my father-in-law was approaching his special birthday last year, I asked Mike for a favor: to call Bert and wish him a happy birthday.
Mike agreed without hesitation. Two days before the special day, Mike stopped at my workplace in Manhasset. I called Bert at his nursing home in Great Neck and put Mike on the phone. It was a complete suprise to Bert.
Mike spent more than 10 minutes wishing Bert a happy birthday and, of course, talking about the Yankees. The names Mantle and DiMaggio came up as they compared notes on Yankees heroes.
When my family celebrated Bert’s birthday two days later, he couldn’t stop talking about the phone call. Over his lifetime, he said it was one of the nicest things anyone had ever done for him.
Unfortunately, Bert’s health declined this year and he passed away July 13. But even in his final months in the hospital and nursing home, he always had a radio set to WFAN to listen each afternoon to Mike Francesa. And he also had the memory of that special phone call for his 90th birthday.
Reader Lewis Leiss lives in Woodbury.