At the top of the second-floor staircase at the Harvard Club in New York City, you’ll see an impressive painting of Reginald F. Lewis, the first Black American to helm a billion-dollar company, Beatrice Foods. A graduate of Harvard Law School, the posthumous artwork was commissioned by his wife, Loida Lewis, who also demanded the prominent placement of the picture in the club’s hallowed halls.

Lewis is once again paying honor and tribute to her husband, who passed away unexpectedly at age 50 in 1993, with her new book, Why Should Guys Have All the Fun?: An Asian American Story of Love, Marriage, Motherhood, and Running a Billion Dollar Empire, out this week. It’s a spin on the title of her husband’s memoir, Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun?, the biography detailing what motivated him to achieve billionaire status and drove his personal motto to “keep going, no matter what.”

Dedicated to keeping Mr. Lewis’ memory alive and thriving—no matter what—his devoted wife shares with EBONY who inspired Mr. Lewis to excel and the adorable story behind their “meet cute.” 

EBONY: Mr. Reginald Lewis was a brilliant man. What was the mindset that he had to become an incredible visionary?

Loida Lewis: I think it was being born in a family that always worked, and being raised by a single mother from when he was 5 years old. She had left his father because, according to his aunt when he asked, his father was not ambitious enough. He had a mother who taught him to be responsible for himself. That background of a working family in Baltimore, a city where discrimination and bigotry were very much present toward the Black community in the 1950s, made him very ambitious to get to the very top.

How have you continued to carry the torch of your husband's legacy? 

He wrote his book, but he didn't finish it. He died after a short illness with brain cancer. So I took it upon myself to get it done. And that's when Blair S. Walker, who was a business journalist for USA Today, came into the picture. He was also from Baltimore, had followed Mr. Lewis’ career and wrote a long article for the business section of the paper when my husband died. I called him, and he said he knew he was going to be the one to complete it. He did an awesome and thorough job of interviewing probably 100 people for the book. It was first published in 1995.

It goes with Mr. Lewis' motto of "Keep going, no matter what."

Yes, because I knew in my heart it had to be done. It had to be completed. What Mr. Lewis did was extraordinary. He bought Beatrice Foods on a leveraged buyout, nearly $1 billion for 64 companies in 31 countries outside the United States. He is the first American to do a leveraged buyout of an international company with no branches in the U.S. I wanted, especially young Black men, to learn the story of how he did it. I’ve met many people who have told me that Reginald Lewis is my hero. The book has influenced a lot of lives.

You have two lovely daughters. How did you raise them to embrace their own Black excellence when that's not your background?

Well, of course, there’s family: my husband had five siblings in Baltimore, and he had lots of aunts and uncles. So every Christmas and Easter, we would be there. We were able to send our daughters to private schools and most of the time, they were the only Black students. I wanted them to have friends who are Black, so I got accepted into Jack and Jill. Although there were objections because, obviously, I'm not African American, I argued that this organization is for African American children like mine and became the first Asian mother involved with the Manhattan chapter.

Your daughters are devoted to helping others achieve greatness as well. 

My daughter Christina started two non-profits. The first one is All-Star Code, which teaches kids how to code. And then, during the pandemic, she was searching for a Black fencing organization and couldn’t find one. So she started Giving Gap, an online directory of Black non-profits. My other daughter Leslie is an actress who created a one-woman show about Immaculée Ilibagiza who survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She also teaches people how to invest in the market because, aside from real estate, it's a way to create intergenerational wealth. 

Why Should Guys Should Have All The Fun? Loida Lewis
Why Should Guys Have All The Fun?
Loida Lewis (Wiley, March 28)

Price: $28

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What motivated you to write your own story?

For 30 years, I've been promoting Mr. Lewis’ book, Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?, so after 30 years, I wanted women to read about my experiences. Blair, who co-authored the book, knew half of my life already and said that he’d help me finish my book.

What do you want people to take away from it?

I want readers to know that my family didn't start off like this. When Mr. Lewis started off as a practicing lawyer, we had a pile of returned checks for insufficient funds. But we kept going—no matter what. From a woman’s perspective, we are special, and we have the capacity to do things just as well as men, even if we do them differently. What I’ve done is remain true to myself, used my own common sense, and continued to have faith that God will guide me. Do not be scared or afraid of failure, because failure is just another way to success if you can learn from it. 

You and Mr. Lewis have a “meet-cute” love story. Tell us a little bit about it.

I was in New York waiting for my sister to graduate from Columbia University. I took a job with the law student Civil Rights Research Council, and my boss was a classmate of my husband. I introduced my boss to my sister, and they were going out on a date that weekend, and my boss suggested that we double-date. I came from a very conservative country where we would always go out in groups, so I thought this was very interesting and exciting. He called Reginald, who was working at the big law firm Paul, Weiss. Initially, Reginald said, “No, I'm too busy.” But then he learned I was from the Philippines, and he had never dated anyone like me. I was here on a tourist visa. A few times during our courtship, I told him that I didn't want to see him again, but I was on my way back to the Philippines and I knew that I would not meet a man like this again. So after the third time, I relented. I called him and said, “Darling, I'm coming back.” That started in 1968, and we got married in August 1969.

Why Should Guys Have All the Fun? is available on Amazon.