*On Friday, November 30, 2012, luminaries representing the economic and political arenas –from Washington to Wall Street — attended a very exclusive dining experience to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the birth of the billion-dollar business empire founded by beloved Black business icon Reginald F. Lewis at The Harvard Club of New York City where he was a member.
The powerful event was oversubscribed to and organizers had to set up an overflow room equipped with large screen TVs on another floor of the pristine club. Net proceeds raised during the evening will go to the Reginald F. Lewis Maryland Museum of African American History & Culture in Baltimore.
The elegant evening chaired and hosted by Lewis’ widow Loida Nicolas Lewis began with a convivial VIP cocktail reception followed by a stellar program, dinner and live auction. As guests took their seats in the handsome Harvard Hall with its splendid three-story, floor-to ceiling windows and rich, dark Mahogany paneling, opulent chandeliers, bigger than life fireplaces and even an elephant tusk their eyes focused on a breathtaking Christmas tree that could rival the one in Rockefeller Center. The formal table settings included tall silver candelabras and gorgeous floral arrangements.
Festively dressed guests were greeted by CNN commentator and host of TV One’s Washington Watch, Roland S. Martin, who served as Master of Ceremonies and welcomed Lewis’ mother Carolyn E. Fugett to bless the food. Fugett invited her family to join her on stage for the invocation saying, “Grace is about family so I’m going to call my family to remember Reg.” Then the posh noshed Scottish Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraiche, Caviar & Cucumber (first course); Grilled Filet Mignon & Shrimp, Béarnaise Sauce & Truffle Sauce (entrée); followed by Chocolate Dipped Strawberries and Assorted Macaroons (desserts).
After a remembrance video entitled “Reginald Lewis – Keep Going, No Matter What,” co-chairs Shannon Hales, Dale LeFebvre and Philip W. McNeal delivered poignant remarks about their mentor Lewis. Then Ted Virtue of MidOcean Partners introduced keynote speaker and one of Esquire magazine’s “75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century,” Michael Milken, chair, Milken Institute, who said that Lewis was the embodiment of the American Dream. The legendary capitalist and philanthropist recalled how Lewis came to him some 25 years ago for a loan after having been rejected by so many other financiers and how he was so impressed with him that he lent him the capital to buy Beatrice Foods. That was the start of Lewis’ American Dream.
Mr. Milken, the man who launched a revolution in American capitalism that started 3,200 companies including MCI, Turner Broadcasting, Time Warner, Warnaco and McCaw Cellular, captured the audience’s attention as he argued about the importance of expanding access to capital which he said should flow to anyone with merit, regardless of their color, religion, gender or land of birth. As a cancer survivor, he also stressed the importance of medical research into the causes of cancer.
The commemorative evening celebrated the 25th anniversary of the $1 billion leveraged buyout of Beatrice International Foods by the late black businessman who died in January 1993 at the age of 50. Among the big names attending were event honorary chair and former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins and his wife Joyce; Tony-award winning actor Charles Dutton; chairman and CEO of MidOcean Partners Ted Virtue; and former Alliance Capital CEO Frank Savage and his wife Lolita.
In her emotional remarks, Loida Lewis touched the audience when she said, “Love never ends. Love one another fiercely because life is so short.” Mrs. Lewis, who successfully ran TLC Beatrice International after her husband’s death, urged the audience not to be daunted by racism or other obstacles when pursuing their ambitions. “For all of you out there who have a dream, keep going no matter what.”
Among the highlights of the event was the auction of three celebrity lunches with: Mike Milken, to be held at his Beverly Hills office with the meal prepared by a celebrity chef; The Hon. David N. Dinkins, one of the powers of the New York City Democratic Party; billionaire Leon Black, chairman & CEO of Apollo Global Management with over $105 billion in assets under management. Mr. Black recently paid $120 million for the Edvard Munch painting, “The Scream.”
The first bid of the evening was called in from Asia by Manuel Pangilinan, chairman of Hong Kong-based First Pacific, a holding company that owns telecom, electric, water, toll road and hospital companies in the Philippines along with the largest noodle company in the world based in Indonesia. Businessman Milken offered to match any bids for his lunch. Power financier Frank Savage donated $3,000 during the auction.
Entertainment was provided by the stars of the Broadway hits “Lion King” and “West Side Story,” Adam Jacobs and Alie Ewoldt, and the Marcus and Riza Printup Quartet. This was a very special salute to a very special man and it took a wonderful team to make this celebration the incredible success it turned out to be.
The entire event was organized by veteran Event Strategist Sharon Lopez, owner and CEO, Purple Giraffe Productions, and her immaculate staff including her sister Adrienne Lopez (stage manager) and Ondie Suarez (event coordinator). Also special thanks to Rene ‘Butch” Meily (publicist); Bimal C. Amin; Lilly Black; Robert de la Cruz (photography); Dell Graphics (printing); Jerry Sibal Design (event design); Kurt & Vanessa Leggard (photography By Kurt); and Sheila Patel, Y Interact (graphic design).
Event sponsors included J.P. Morgan, 126.96.36.199 Investments, American Express, Bloomberg, Ariel Investments, GE Asset Management, Morgan Stanley, Profit Investments and Shannon Hales, Dale Lefevbre, Philip McNeal, Marianne Camille Spraggins, Valentino Carlotti, Delle Sering and Mac Fojas, Alan Schwartz, Gerald Schwartz, Ted Virtue and many others.
In addition to exquisite memories from the commemorative event, guests departed with fabulous swag bags containing four books – the recently re-issued biography of Lewis, “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun? How Reginald Lewis Created A Billion-Dollar Business Empire,” his daughter, Christina Lewis Halpern’s book, “Lonely At the Top,” his high school and college classmate Lin Hart’s book, “Reginald F. Lewis Before TLC Beatrice,” and a set of interviews with individuals who knew Lewis or were inspired by him by TV journalist Ponchitta Pierce, “Keep Going, No Matter What; The Reginald F. Lewis Legacy: 20 Years Later.”
Other events commemorating the milestones of Lewis’s brief but momentous life took place on Friday, December 7, 2012, at the Reginald F. Lewis Maryland Museum of African American History & Culture in Baltimore, 830 E. Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202, where students from his alma mater, Dunbar High School, and the Reginald F. Lewis High School of Business and Law in Baltimore displayed their talents.
This event exemplified the excellence that each student or performing group has within and honors Lewis’ mantra “keep going, no matter what.” The event, which was funded through a grant from The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, coincides with the 25th anniversary of Reginald F. Lewis’ acquisition of the international division of Beatrice Foods, and the release of a special commemorative edition of his biography “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun? How Reginald Lewis Created A Billion-Dollar Business Empire,” reissued by Black Classic Press.
On January 18, 2013 in New York City, the commemoration of the date he passed away 20 years earlier, former TLC Beatrice executives and board members from Europe and Asia will discuss their experiences. Essay contests on Reginald F. Lewis’s life are being conducted in certain New York City and Baltimore high schools. PBS’s New York station, WNET Channel 13, will broadcast public service ads on his life and accomplishments on selected dates in December and during Black History Month in February, 2013.
With his successful bid in 1984 for McCall Pattern Company, one of the nation’s oldest home sewing companies, and then in 1987, the acquisition of Beatrice International Foods, a business empire that spanned 64 companies in 31 countries, Reginald F. Lewis became a symbol of African American hopes and ambitions. For more information on Reginald F. Lewis, please go to www.reginaldlewis.com. For more information on the Museum, please go to www.rflewismuseum.org.
About the Reginald F. Lewis Museum
The Reginald F. Lewis Museum is Baltimore’s premier facility highlighting the history and accomplishments of African Americans with a special focus on Maryland’s African American community. A Smithsonian affiliate, the museum is the East Coast’s largest African American museum occupying an 82,000 square-foot facility with ample permanent and special exhibition space, interactive learning environments, auditorium, resource center, oral history recording studio, museum shop, café, classrooms, meeting rooms, outside terrace and reception areas. The museum is located near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor at the corner of Pratt and President Streets. For more information, please call 443-263-1800 or visit RFLewisMuseum.org.
About the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation
The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation is a private family foundation committed to education and children’s programs. The foundation was founded by the late Reginald F. Lewis, Baltimore born entrepreneur and philanthropist who served as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of TLC Beatrice International, the largest U.S. company owned by an African American during his lifetime.
Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.