HEROES
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My grandfather, John W. (Jack) Lewis, died on May 20, 1959. I know this because the picture of him mounted on the wall of my office was taken 15 minutes before his death. The same picture also appears on the first page of my website. (Associated Press style)

John (Jack) Lewis

The setting for the picture was in the opulent Grand Ballroom of New York City’s Hotel Pierre overlooking Central Park. The hotel is now a penthouse and is on the market for $70 million. The occasion was the 100th anniversary of Union Dime Savings Bank. Jack Lewis, who was President of Union Dime, had just completed his remarks under the ballroom’s elegant vaulted ceiling. A guest soprano singer performed the song, “Annie Laurie.” Then, at 9:45 p.m., my grandfather slumped over. Minutes later, he was gone.

Jack Lewis began working for Union Dime 48 years earlier, as an errand boy who earned $2 per week. From there, he worked as a messenger, a bookkeeper, assistant secretary, assistant treasurer and then he was promoted to the position of vice president., my grandfather and Union Dime grew together. After Jack Lewis became President in 1948, the growth continued. When his obituary was printed in Time Magazine eleven 11 years later, Union Dime was the 15th largest mutual savings bank in the country.

My grandfather was the kind of person that people believed in - a quality that John D. Rockefeller attributed to his enormous success. His conservative attire - short, stiff, rounded shirt collars under dark suits– matched his conservative beliefs, much to my father’s dissension. Many would describe him as a “banker’s banker,” but he was more than that. He had a sharp, searching mind and he was a rugged competitor in an industry that had just started to really bloom.

He would say, “I have nothing to sell except service.” He was one of the first to install business machines for tellers to deliver faster help to the bank’s customers. In 1956, he ordered a fully electronic bookkeeping system. He was given a considerable amount of credit for a New York State banking law that passed in 1950, enabling savings banks to invest part of their assets in stocks. He was the first president of New York’s Institutional Investors Mutual Fund, an open-end stock fund for mutual savings banks.

I think the reason he was so respected and well-liked was because he delivered on his word and always did it with an easy and friendly manner. He delegated responsibility and called his fellow bank employees “my family.” As one Union Dime executive commented in his obituary, “I’ve never gone to any convention or dinner where the greeting wasn’t ‘How’s Jack Lewis?’” At his funeral, his long-time secretary said to my dad, “He never said an unkind word to me.”

He always had a large presence in my life although, unfortunately, not a living one. When the bank closed, they called my father and asked if we would like the large oil portrait that was done for each President. It hung in our dining room, completely out of place, given our contemporary home in the Midwest; but it was enjoyable just the same.

When I incorporated my business, I initially called the sole proprietorship Lewis & Company. Then I decided that Union Dime, Inc., was more appropriate for what I felt the business stood for in the essence of my grandfather[em dash] exceptional service, dependability, initiative, integrity, perseverance and a focus of creating economic opportunity for others.