In a glittering and elegant mix of nostalgia, big money, Wall Street and the political and economic elite of the African-American community, an overflow crowd of close to 300 people flocked November 30, to an exclusive Midtown Manhattan club to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the $1 billion leveraged buyout of Beatrice International Foods by the late Black businessman Reginald F. Lewis.
Loida Nicolas Lewis, his widow, hosted the gathering to honor her husband who died in January 1993 at the age of 50. Among the big names attending were Michael Milken, the legendary capitalist and philanthropist who was the evening’s main speaker, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, CNN commentator Roland Martin, Tony-award winning actor Charles Dutton, Chairman and CEO of MidOcean Partners Ted Virtue and former Alliance Capital CEO Frank Savage.
So many people attended the event that many had to be shifted to an overflow room equipped with large screen TVs on another floor of the club. Net proceeds raised during the evening will go to the Reginald F. Lewis Maryland Museum of African American History & Culture in Baltimore.
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.
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.”
Reginald Lewis’ mother, Carolyn Fugett, called her family on stage for the invocation saying, “Grace is about family so I’m going to call my family to remember Reg.” Roland Martin, fresh from his no-holds-barred and highly-rated election analysis for CNN, hosted the evening.
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. The entire event was organized by veteran Event Strategist Sharon Lopez, owner and CEO of Purple Giraffe Productions.
The sponsors of the event were J.P. Morgan, 18.104.22.168 Investments, American Express, Bloomberg, Ariel Investments and GE Asset Management, among many others.
The audience received four books – the recently re-issued biography of Mr. 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 Mr. Lewis or were inspired by him by TV journalist Ponchitta Pierce, “Keep Going, No Matter What; The Reginald F. Lewis Legacy: 20 Years Later.”
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 Lewis became a symbol of African-American hopes and ambitions.