Author and TV personality Star Jones. (Douglas Harrington)
- In what has grown into one the Hamptons' top tier charity fundraisers, the Fourth Annual Reginald F. Lewis Luncheon Gala once again celebrated the life of America's first African-American to build a billion dollar company and broke records in support of the museum that is his legacy.
Reginald F. Lewis
had a journey that took him from the streets of a tough Baltimore neighborhood to the perhaps even tougher street known as Wall Street, at the time particularly tougher for a man of color. Along the way he graduated from the University of Virginia as a stellar student and while participating in a Rockefeller Foundation funded summer program to introduce African-American students to general legal studies in his senior year, Lewis became the only person in the history of the prestigious law school to be admitted without ever submitting an application or taking the LSAT. Lewis so profoundly impressed Prof. Frank E. A. Sander
that he convinced the Dean of Admissions to reserve the extraordinary student a spot in the law school class of 1968. Lewis arrived in Cambridge with only $50 in his pocket. Years later, Lewis would endow Harvard with a $1 million dollar grant, at the time the largest individual donor grant in the school's history.
Former Mayor of NYC, the Honorable David Dinkins. (Douglas Harrington)
Upon graduation in 1968, he joined a prestigious Manhattan law firm, and within two years 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. realized his company a 90-1 return on investment. On the heels of that deal 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. This deal gave Lewis the distinction of being the first African-American to build a billion dollar company, which he did literally from scratch.
Clearly Lewis was a man that was both inspired and inspired others and this year's Reginald F. Lewis Luncheon Gala honorees reflected examples of both. The aforementioned Sander was this year's Millennium Member Award winner, acknowledged for his keen eye in noticing Lewis' outstanding talents and inspiring him during his tenure at Harvard Law School.
Christina Lewis, Master of Ceremonies Maurice DuBois and socialite Sherry B. Bronfman. (Douglas Harrington)
Former NFL cornerback Eugene A. Profit
was this year's Reginald F. Lewis Award winner and he acknowledged Lewis as an inspiration in his post NFL career as founder, president, CEO, and portfolio manager of Profit Investment Management, an investment management firm with approximately $2 billion in assets. Although a major inspiration to generations of African-American entrepreneurs, Profit agreed that Lewis' approach to business was colorblind, "He didn't ask for any shortcuts, he didn't ask for any favors, what he did was prove money knows no color. If you put up and in the process you make money for your stake holders you can grow your company larger and larger. That is what we are here celebrating."
Honoree Eugene A. Profit standing before the image of the late Reginald F. Lewis. (Douglas Harrington)
A celebration indeed, as attendees proceeded from the VIP private cocktail party in the beautiful Lewis mansion to the awards ceremony and luncheon in a massive tent on the estate's great lawn. Although it had been threatening rain all morning, the clouds parted and guests were treated to a scrumptious Southern style buffet of ribs, fried chicken and lobster, along with stunning cocktails provided by event sponsor Belvedere Vodka.
This year the reins of Event Chairperson was passed from mother to daughter as Leslie Lewis Sword
took over from her mother Loida Nicolas Lewis
who has over the years tirelessly carried on her late husband's legacy in establishing and supporting the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture in Baltimore (www.africanamericanculture.org), continuing the philanthropic work of his foundation and by ensuring that his inspirational book, "Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun" was posthumously published after his untimely death from brain cancer in 1993.
Sword certainly rose to the occasion as she and her Host Committee raised in excess of $655,000 at this year's event, which included an online CharityBuzz auction. "We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love for our father," Sword noted. "It shows us that his memory and legacy continue to inspire others." More significantly, this year's proceeds pushed them over the edge to receive a $1 million matching grant provided by the Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown Family Foundation
Audrey J. Bernard of the New York Beacon News and Jeanne Parnell of WHCR. (Douglas Harrington)
This year again CBS2 News Anchor Maurice DuBois
served as Master of Ceremonies and the afternoon's entertainment was provided by celebrity spinner DJ M.O.S.
and the Marcus Johnson Jazz Trio
. A portrait of author-essayist Dr. William Pickens, Sr.
by artist Hale Woodruff
was also unveiled during the award ceremony and it will make its way to Baltimore for exhibition in the museum.
Actor/comedian Jamie Foxx
was slated to present this year's awards, but he had to bow out at the last moment due to a family emergency that forced an unexpected return to Los Angeles. Host Committee member Shawn Baldwin
stepped into Foxx's shoes with fine humor and panache.
The "Get it done!" legacy of Reginald F. Lewis continues through the work of his foundation. (Douglas Harrington)
Former NYC mayor David Dinkins
was a lifelong friend of Lewis, "Reggie was a dear friend and a great man." The Mayor then joked, "I often told him the smartest thing he ever did, besides marrying Loida, was to break out on his own and not join into a law practice with me and Basil Paterson
TV personality and author Star Jones
was also in attendance and told Hamptons.com, "I think Reginald Lewis stood for one major theme throughout his entire career, don't quit and don't take no for an answer. He had the ability to hear a problem and instead of approaching it from an 'It can't be done!' perspective to approaching it from a 'How can we get it done?' perspective."
The "Get it done!" legacy of Reginald F. Lewis continues through the work of his foundation, the inspiration of his example, the pride of African-American accomplishment and history that resonates in his museum and, perhaps most poignantly, in the love of his devoted family.
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Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com