Lewis name put on hold for center

April 18, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

To Peggy Ritch, it was an honor that was long overdue. With the death of her son, Boston Celtics guard Reggie Lewis, sending shock waves through his hometown last July, Ritch felt that the scheduled renaming of the Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center in his honor was appropriate.

"That was the place where he started," Ritch said of the East Baltimore center. "He really loved that center -- it had a special place in his heart."

But plans to rename the center -- in a ceremony that originally was set for today -- have been put on hold after Lewis' widow, Donna Harris-Lewis, asked the city not to go through with the proceedings.

Harris-Lewis, who is in charge of the Reggie Lewis Foundation, says she wants more time to investigate the center. Ritch describes the delay as an intentional slight by Harris-Lewis. Whatever the reason, the matter has brought to a head a family squabble that seems to have intensified since Lewis died of a heart ailment July 27.

"I thought it was a wonderful idea, as far as naming the center after Reggie," Ritch said last week in the Northeast Baltimore home purchased by her son. "He's dead, and we want to keep his legacy alive. But it's a big stumbling block that she's putting up, and I'm angry."

Harris-Lewis, reached Friday at her home in Massachusetts, expressed surprise when told there was bitterness from her late husband's family here.

"I just had our second child [in February] and as widow and executor of his estate, I'd like to be involved in the various projects," she said. "This is very important to me and very important to Reggie. As far as taking someone's name off the facility now, I'd like to see who [Cecil-Kirk] is. I'd hate to see 20 years down the line someone taking Reggie's name off and putting somebody else's name up."

Harris-Lewis, who apparently didn't know that the center is named after two East Baltimore streets, said she found out about the renaming ceremony right after her daughter's birth on Feb. 7. Soon afterward, her foundation forwarded a letter to the ++ city, expressing concerns about the ceremony.

"A number of people have expressed an interest in renaming something after Reggie, and the center seemed appropriate," said Alma Bell, spokeswoman for the Department of Recreation and Parks. "His wife has organized a foundation, and we've decided to wait until it's clear what the guidelines of the foundation are. We want to hear from her before doing anything."

Harris-Lewis said the foundation services Baltimore and Boston -- and she said she would like a new facility built in Baltimore named after her husband, like the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center that is under construction in Massachusetts. She said that Ritch and two of her late husband's cousins are members of the foundation board.

But Ritch said that she has no involvement in the group, which she said has ignored her son's Baltimore ties.

"This is my son's organization, and for no one in our family to not be a part, I just don't understand," Ritch said. "It's almost like my son never existed. It's almost like he was never a part of our lives, period.

"We all want to show our feelings, because this is his home. And people here aren't being given the opportunity to honor him."

Ritch said that she and Harris-Lewis don't communicate, except when the two speak about the grandchildren. "I truly believe that [Harris-Lewis] had my son's best interests at heart in terms of business, because he was a quiet person and she didn't let people take advantage of him," Ritch said. "But it went a little too far when it came to family being treated that way. I'm angry."

Harris-Lewis denied she intentionally was trying to stop plans to honor him here.

"Oh, gosh, no," she said. "I spoke to Reggie's mother recently and mentioned why it might be best to wait and see if we could establish a brand-new facility for Reggie. I have no intention of trying to prevent anything from happening in Baltimore."

Ritch said she still hopes that something -- perhaps the renaming of the Cecil-Kirk center -- will happen soon.

"This is his home," she said. "No one is using his name for any money. This center meant a lot to Reggie. We just want to honor him."

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