J. Bruce Llewellyn, a Black businessman who made a name for himself in banking, broadcasting, bottling and groceries, died April 7 at the age of 82. In addition to his many business ventures, Llewellyn in 1963 joined with David Dinkins, future first African American mayor of New York City, and others to form the 100 Black Men of America, Inc., an important Black community social and philanthropic organization.
Llewellyn was a success because of the hard work motto he lived by and preached.
“There is no short road to success,” he said in a 1997 interview with the Black Collegian. “It emanates from long, hard years of concentrated effort, from going the extra mile and doing what others will rarely do. Succeeding is tough. It’s nerve wracking, gut-wrenching, and pain inducing.”
“However, there’s an old saying, ‘Hard work doesn’t guarantee you anything, but without it you don’t stand a chance,’” he said.
According to The New York Times, renal failure was given as Llewellyn’s official cause of death. Edward Lewis, Llewellyn’s friend and legal guardian, told the Times that Llewellyn had been on dialysis for years.
Llewellyn was one of the nation’s most wealthy African-Americans, according to The Times¸ with a personal fortune at one point estimated at more than $160 million.
Llewellyn was born on July 16, 1927 in Harlem to Jamaican immigrants. His family moved to White Plains, N.Y. two years after his birth.
Llewellyn’s entrepreneurial spirit began early as he worked in his father’s restaurant, became a door-to-door salesman and read Fortune magazine. He went on to graduate from high school at age 16, and went on to serve in World War II.
Upon his release from the military, he used his severance pay to buy a liquor store in Harlem while attending the City College of New York on the G.I. Bill. After receiving his undergraduate degree, he earned a law degree from New York Law School in 1960.
After opening a private practice, he put all his available funds into buying Fedco Foods, a faltering chain of supermarkets in Harlem and the Bronx, in 1969. By the time he sold the chain in 1982, he’d quintupled the chain’s sales and tripled its number of stores.
In 1983, Llewellyn, former Philadelphia 76ers star Julius Erving and Bill Cosby bought the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co. In 1988, he would buy another Coca-Cola bottling company in Wilmington, Del. In 1985, he bought WKBW-TV in Buffalo, N.Y. and, along with several other investors, purchased South Jersey Cable for over $400 million.
Llewellyn is survived by his wife, Shahara Ahmad-Llewellyn, three daughters, Jaylaan Llewellyn, Lisa Llewellyn, and Alexandra Clancy, and one granddaughter.