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Mon, 02.16.1942

Loida Nicolas Lewis, Businesswoman born

Loita Nicolas Lewis

*The birth of Loida Nicolas Lewis is celebrated on this date in 1942.   She is a Filipino-born American businesswoman, the widow of TLC Beatrice founder and CEO Reginald Lewis.

Loida Nicolas was born and raised in Sorsogon, Sorsogon, the daughter of Francisco Nicolas and Magdalena Mañalac. Her sister, Imelda, was the former Lead Convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

She earned her BA in Humanities (cum laude) from St. Theresas College in Manila and her Bachelor of Laws from the University of the Philippines in Diliman.  She graduated 7th in her College of Law Class in 1967 and passed the Philippine bar examinations the following year, 1968.  Nicolas-Lewis met her husband-to-be, Reginald F. Lewis, on a blind date in New York City in 1968. They were married a year later in Manila in 1969 and had two daughters.

In 1974, she became the first Asian woman to pass the NY Bar, making her eligible to practice law in the Philippines and the United States. Loida Lewis worked for the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council in New York. She won her discrimination case against Immigration and Naturalization and was awarded three years of back pay from 1976 to 1979, and she worked as General Attorney until 1988. She has had a significant impact as an immigration lawyer, particularly regarding Filipino immigrants' rights in America. She co-wrote the book "How to Get a Green Card" with Ilona Bray JD, which is now in its 12th Edition and published by NOLO.  

It was in December 1987 when her husband Reginald acquired Beatrice International in a $985 million leveraged buyout, creating the largest African-American-owned company in the United States. Reginald died from brain cancer in 1993. Lewis served as an informal adviser and confidant to her late husband. After a year of mourning, Loida N. Lewis served as CEO and Chair of TLC Beatrice International, the multinational food company her husband entrusted her with.

In an article by Coco Marett entitled "How Loida Got Her Groove Back," the author states: "But despite her position and her wealth following her takeover of TLC Beatrice, Lewis remained far from flamboyant. The humble businesswoman's first move was to sell the company jet and limousines and move her office from its top-floor luxury suite in Manhattan to a more humble and inconspicuous space." This allowed her to maximize the profits of her late husband's company, which she sold in 1999. Personal life Lewis has spoken to audiences around the United States and the world to promote the biography of her late husband, "Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun? How Reginald Lewis Created a Billion-Dollar Business Empire."  

After her husband's death, Lewis also became active in political causes, co-founding the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA) in 1997, alongside publisher Alex Esclamado, lawyer Rodel Rodis, and recognized civic leader Gloria Caoile, to empower Filipino-Americans. Their founding conference in Washington D.C. was a historic first, with over 1,000 community leaders, high school and college students, young professionals, civil rights activists, and Filipino World War II Veterans in attendance. As Lewis spoke in front of the White House, she emphasized the importance of justice for veterans, encouraged the youth to fight for their 'lolos' and 'lolas,' and to keep their legacy of heroism alive.

In 2000, Lewis succeeded Esclamado as the National Chair of NaFFAA. She was crucial in bringing Hillary Clinton, First Lady at that time, to the Federation's third conference in New York. Lewis also advocated for dual citizenship and overseas voting during Philippine national elections, stating that Filipino-Americans have "an important role to play in making sure that elected officials are accountable to the Filipino people."   Lewis supported presidential candidates in the US and Philippines: Obama in 2008, Aquino in 2010, and Clinton and Roxas in 2016.

Shortly before he died in 1993, Reginald F. Lewis gave Harvard Law School the largest grant by an individual, up to that time, in the school’s history. The Law School’s International Law Center was renamed in his honor. Among other programs, the Foundation grant supports fellowships that teach minority lawyers to be law professors.  The RFL International Law Center is home to the International Legal Studies Library and contains one-third of the Law Library’s international law collection. It also houses the Graduate programs where approximately 150 lawyers and scholars worldwide come to pursue LL.M or S.J.D. degrees or to conduct research and write.

The Reginald F. Lewis International Law Center is the first major facility at Harvard named in honor of an African American. Lewis is Chair and CEO of TLC Beatrice, LLC, a family investment firm. Loida Lewis also Chairs the Reginald F. Lewis (RFL) Foundation, which supports the Reginald F Lewis College of Business at Virginia State University, The Lewis College in Sorsogon, Philippines, and the Reginald F Lewis Museum of Maryland African American  Museum of History and Culture.  Recently, the Foundation supported the African American Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. 

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