May 2023

A Story of Love, Leadership, and Perseverance

May 12, 2023    |  

“This museum is a celebration of excellence. And it's a celebration of a family,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore told a full house in the auditorium of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore on May 10. Moore and Baltimore civic, business, and cultural leaders were invited by the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) to a night honoring Loida Lewis, chair and CEO of TLC Beatrice, LLC, and now author of the new book, “Why Should Guys Have All the Fun?”

The book’s title itself is an homage to her late husband Reginald Lewis’ iconic business memoir, “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?” His book told how the Wall Street titan built a business empire — Beatrice International — and became the wealthiest Black man in America. Her story expands the narrative of their lives, exploring Loida Lewis’ life from her upbringing in the Philippines to her rise as a tough immigration lawyer in New York, and goes deeply into the Lewises’ whirlwind romance and the immense challenges she faced after Reginald’s untimely death at age 50 in 1993. Most of all, “Why Should Guys Have All the Fun?” shows how grit and faith together can overcome anything.

(l-r) Bruce Jarrell, Loida Lewis, and Luke Cooper

(l-r) Bruce Jarrell, Loida Lewis, and Luke Cooper

“Those of you who have her book, it’s got some interesting passages in it,” UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, told the audience. “One really stuck out in my mind because it reminded me so much of UMB.”

Jarrell explained that Lewis’ work for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service put her face to face with people who didn’t have a lawyer or many resources and couldn’t navigate the federal bureaucracy. “And the point that drove home to me, something really important was that those were the ones she really paid attention to, because those were the ones that nobody else would pay attention to. The staff attorneys, the other ones wanted to take care of the higher profile or the ones with an attorney, and 'Auntie' Loida took care of those people, the people in need. You know who they are, they’re the people that get left out.

Moore, a friend of the Lewis family, also explained why the book resonated with him. “She talks about the people who need support and mentorship and the people who she has guided and helped throughout her life. One of those people is my mom,” Moore explained. “Because years ago, when she first had a chance to meet my mom, and she first had a chance to hear her story, that bond became immediate. And that bond became unbreakable.

“I cannot tell you enough how much your example still continues to mean to her. Because what you showed is an ability to know that even when all things seem dark, that if you just push hard, the light is ahead. And that the legacy that you’re building is one that all people can and will be proud of.”

For much of the evening, the audience was treated to a discussion with Loida Lewis led by UMB Distinguished President’s Scholar Luke T. Cooper, JD, MBA. At one point, Cooper asked Lewis to apply her experience to the challenges facing entrepreneurs — particularly Black and women entrepreneurs — today in Baltimore. “There are a lot of people in this city, Auntie Loida, that are doing their very best. We’ve got 1,500 women-owned businesses in the city that are undercapitalized,” he said. “Baltimore brings in roughly $300 million-plus in venture capital every year. Not even 1 percent of that goes to Black entrepreneurs in this city. What do you say to them?”

“Slavery is the original sin of the United States,” Lewis said. “And racism still exists, discrimination, prejudice. And so, it is up to people who have power. And I’m so glad that our governor is the first Black governor of Maryland. Yes. But in the end, it’s people who have power.”

Lewis went on to explain how her husband used his great talent to overcome the challenges facing a prospective law student in 1965. The Rockefeller Foundation sponsored 80 students from historically Black colleges and universities to attend an eight-week summer program at Harvard University. Lewis so impressed the school that he was asked by the law dean to enroll that fall without even applying.

“So, I want to fast-forward to today,” Cooper continued. “We have 4,000-plus boards, corporate boards out there, you know, less than 10 percent of them are represented by women, less than 5 percent of them are represented by women of color. In the wake of George Floyd, corporations made a big commitment. They said they were going to give maybe $100 billion, $50 billion to various causes around racial equality. That has not happened. Why do you think that’s not happened?”

“Because after they said that, we who are involved just quieted down,” Lewis replied. “There is no news follow-up. And even organizations that are not-for-profit, even Black companies, Latino, are not demanding it. So, I’m just saying, if you don’t demand, they will not listen. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. And there’s no squeaky wheel. So, that’s what I’m saying.”

How did Lewis come to run Beatrice International after her husband’s death, Cooper asked. Lewis explained that her husband’s plan if he should pass away was to ask Colin Powell, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Department of Defense, to take over. Powell declined, and Lewis was unimpressed by the candidates she interviewed. “None of them would say, ‘I will make it succeed.’ It’s, ‘I will try my best.’ ”

Questions from the audience also yielded some powerful insights from Lewis:

  • How to climb the corporate ladder: “Take a mentor, look into the organization where you are, and see who is, more or less, a rising star or being listened to, and then maybe invite him for coffee.”
  • How to be an effective leader: “It’s very important to have a goal. Because if you don’t have a goal, how will people follow you?”
  • Act ethically: “Obedience to a code of ethics. Because if you start to make hanky-panky, you know? Yes, do something illegal, you are going to get the consequences. That’s in personal life and business life.”
  • Don’t worry about fitting in: “First of all, yes, I am Filipina, I speak with an accent, but it never bothered me, OK. In other words, you accept yourself as you are.”
  • Be positive: “Don’t look for discrimination, because you will find it. But if you look for beauty, you’ll find it. You look for positiveness, you’ll find that. Yes, there is prejudice and racism, OK, and evil in this world. So, your own sense will say, ‘Avoid, there’s danger there.’ If you trip, live true to yourself. So, don’t worry, set your goal and you’ll get there.”