In the Philippines, Wife Honors the Legacy of Reginald Lewis

Loida Lewis, the widow of the Black financier, operates a college in her native country named for her late husband.

Posted: 04/01/2013 10:00 AM EDT

REPORTING FROM MANILA, PHILIPPINES The life of America’s most successful African-American Wall Street financier is remembered and celebrated in a most unlikely location, some 8,000 miles from the New York City financial hub where he rose to prominence.

In a quiet province in the Philippines, there is a school that is named after Reginald F. Lewis, who is widely regarded as one of America’s financial powerhouses. In fact, in a short 10 years since it was founded, the Lewis College has gained a good bit of attention for its academic excellence in a school that provides education for students from elementary school through college.

The school was founded by Loida Nicolas Lewis, the widow of the late finance mogul, in her native Filipino province of Sorsogon, a 11-hour drive to the southwest of the nation’s capital of Manila. It was, she explained, a way of honoring her husband’s memory as well as providing needed quality education in the region where she grew up.

“The idea of starting a school was something that I was excited about,” Lewis said, in an interview with BET.com. “It has always been my belief that the best way out of poverty is education."

Indeed, her late husband considered his contributions to educational institutions to be his most important legacy. In the years before his death, he gave vast sums to several schools, including Virginia State and Howard universities. In New York, he gave large contributions to Abyssinian Baptist Church and the New York City scholarship foundation of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, of which he was a member.

As every student at the school knows, Reginald Lewis was a Wall Street lawyer and financier, was one of America’s richest businessmen and was a prominent corporate-takeover dealer. He was a graduate of Virginia State and Harvard Law School.

His $1 billion acquisition in 1987 of the Beatrice Cos., a foods concern, led to the formation of his own company, TLC Beatrice International. He amassed personal assets of $400 million, according to estimates by Fortune magazine. By acquiring the Beatrice operations, TLC became the largest company in the country run by a Black person. He died in 1993 from brain cancer at the age of 50.

In addition to educating students, there seems to be another mission at the Lewis College. The leaders of the school are determined to make sure that students come to know the name and accomplishments of the man after whom the institution was named.

Loida Lewis, who lives in New York City, says that the decision to start the college was reached after a school property in Sorsogon was in foreclosure; persuaded by a family member, she acquired the property and started a school from the ground up.

“My sister-in-law was able to get all the governmental approval to start an elementary school, high school and college,” she said. Before long the school was up and running. Five years ago, there were fewer than 700 students enrolled. Today, there are nearly 1,300 students in the school.

Because many of those enrolled in the Lewis College have severely limited means, Lewis has sought — and provided — financial assistance for many of the students.

Not only are the students receiving a quality education. They also seem to have learned a great deal about the man after whom the school was named.

“I know that Reginald Lewis came from a poor family and became successful in business,” said Jess Divina, a junior in the college discipline at the school, who is studying business management. “I want to follow that example.”

For her part, Lewis said that the school represents a way of making a contribution to the community where she grew up and to ensure that the name of Reginald Lewis is known by future generations.

“It’s a way of giving back,” she said. “My husband was not born in the Philippines. But he certainly is known at the Lewis College. And his memory will always be alive."

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(Photo: Jonathan P. Hicks/BET)

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