The Third Annual Reginald F. Lewis Foundation Gala Luncheon
By Douglas Harrington
The Reginald F. Lewis Gala hostess and honorees L. Londell McMillan, Loida Nicolas Lewis, Peter Offerman, Phyllis Schless and Robert C. Winters, Jr. (Douglas Harrington)
East Hampton - Entrepreneur and philanthropist Reginald F. Lewis was once again remembered in the Hamptons at the Third Annual Reginald F. Lewis Foundation Gala Luncheon held at the Lewis estate in East Hampton.
Master of Ceremonies and CBS News anchor Maurice DuBois.
His legacy is one of both a tenacious businessman who broke through color barriers in the world of high finance corporate business and a gentleman who worked tirelessly to make that same world color blind. Along the way he influenced generations of young entrepreneurs of all colors, generously infusing in them the confidence and self-determination to succeed as he had himself.
Confidence and self-determination were inherent aspects of his personality from the beginning, as Lewis excelled both academically and athletically in high school in a tough Baltimore neighborhood. Upon losing his football scholarship because of injury, he worked two jobs to keep himself at Virginia State University. After attending a Rockefeller Foundation sponsored Harvard University summer program for African-American students in 1965, Lewis became the only person in the history of the prestigious law school to be admitted without ever submitting an application. Prof. Frank Sanders was so impressed with Lewis that he simply reserved the student a spot in the law school class of 1968.
Within two years of graduation he established the first African-American firm on Wall Street, Lewis and Clarkson, specializing in corporate law and structured investments in minority-owned businesses, along with serving corporate multinationals, including General Foods. A desire to "do the deal myself" motivated Lewis to start the TLC Group, whose first $22.5 million leverage buyout, resurrection and sale of the failing McCall Pattern Corp. garnered his company a 90-1 return on investment. In 1987, Lewis completed a deal for the $985 million buyout of Beatrice Foods International, at the time the largest ever buyout of overseas assets by an American company. Lewis has the distinction of being the first African-American to build a billion dollar company, which he did literally from scratch.
Lewis acquaintance Helene Bredes with his mother Carolyn E. Fugett at the luncheon celebrating her son's legacy.
Taken too soon by brain cancer at the age of 50 in 1993, the Lewis legacy of philanthropy continues through the devotion and passion of his beautiful wife Loida Nicolas Lewis, his two daughters Leslie Lewis Sword and Christina S. N. Lewis and his mother Carolyn E. Fugett. The proceeds from the luncheon and the evening oceanfront cocktail party dubbed "Beach Glamour" benefited the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture in Baltimore, the largest museum of its kind on the East Coast.
Mrs. Lewis also made sure that the memoir her husband started before his death, "Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun? How Reginald Lewis Created a Billion Dollar Business Empire," was eventually published. The book was finished posthumously by Blair S. Walker and the paperback edition was included in the event's beautiful gift bags.
The four honorees that were acknowledge at this year's event included Millennium Member Award winners Peter Offerman, Phyllis Schless and Robert C. Winters Jr., all of whom played a role in Lewis' business successes. The Reginald F. Lewis Award went to internationally recognized entertainment attorney, Jones Magazine publisher and artist advocate L. Londell McMillan who numbered among his past and present clients Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince and Roberta Flack, to name but a few.
McMillan put the Lewis legacy in his own words for me, "He was a major trailblazer and was someone who was innovative and passionate, hardworking and just shrewd with a will that was just not going to be denied. He not only wanted to succeed in business, he wanted to bridge the racial divides and he believed one of the ways to do that was to create partnerships that were profitable."
R&B and Pop music artist Deborah Cox thrilled the crowd singing table side to the hundreds of event supporters.
The afternoon's master of ceremonies was CBS News anchor Maurice DuBois who deftly orchestrated the event which included remarks by Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Fugett and all the honorees. During his eloquent and impassioned acceptance speech McMillan reiterated the impact of Lewis and referenced other African American leaders that had personally influenced him like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
The afternoon's entertainment included a dynamic vocal performance by R&B and Pop artist Deborah Cox, soon to be starring in the role of Josephine Baker in the upcoming Broadway musical "Josephine" later this year. Rosalyn Deshauteurs and Vernard J. Gillmore of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater also took the stage and stunningly performed two numbers from the legendary company's repertoire.
Other notables at the luncheon included Oprah Winfrey pal and O Magazine editor-at-large Gayle King, Star Jones of "The View" and author, human rights activist, lecturer and daughter of Malcolm X Ilyasah Shabazz, among others. Although not national celebrities per se, we would be remise in not mentioning Eddie and Sylvia Brown who made the trip up from Baltimore and several years ago offered a million dollar matching grant to the museum's fundraising efforts.
An extraordinary event attended by extraordinary people in celebration of an extraordinary man who has been described, appropriately, as the Jackie Robinson of finance, Reginald F. Lewis.