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In Baltimore, mother family remain bitter about widow THE REGGIE LEWIS TRAGEDY: A YEAR LATER

September 11, 1994|By Ken Rosenthal and Mike Preston | Ken Rosenthal and Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff researcher Dee Lyons contributed to this article.

Yet, Ritch adds, "It's not about money. It's about a person's life. You can't take something away from me that I never had. And money is something I never had."

In addition to her home in Massachusetts, Harris-Lewis now owns the house she and her husband bought in Ruxton, which was assessed for $401,720 in 1993. Ritch, meanwhile, lives in a Northeast Baltimore home that Lewis helped her purchase for $65,500 in 1988.

Ritch says the Lewis estate is paying her $814 monthly mortgage, and also the $529 monthly mortgage on her daughter Sheron's $30,000 home in East Baltimore.

As executor of the estate, Harris-Lewis writes the checks.

"She told me that she didn't have to pay for this house, but it's something she's going to do, something Reggie wanted to do for me," Ritch says. "It's part of his estate. It's something that has to be done. I don't think Donna would pay the mortgage if she didn't have to."

Ritch earns $5 per hour as a part-time security guard for Wackenhut Security Services, and says she cannot afford medical insurance. She previously was a production mechanic for Sweetheart Cup in Owings Mills, but because of her own heart trouble, now is restricted to more sedentary work. She sits at her current job, viewing closed-circuit monitors at a downtown office building.

Ritch raised Lewis with three other children -- Sheron Lewis, 31, Irving Lewis Jr., 30, and Jon Ritch, 25. She says the family lived in seven different houses in East Baltimore.

"Reggie would be very upset if he knew all that was going on," says Jimmy Myers, a Boston media personality who was friendly with Lewis.

"Reggie, being the type of person he was, would want Donna taken care of and his mother taken care of -- probably his mother first. He was a family man. The Reggie I knew wasn't like this."

To some, the issue boils down to the natural break that occurs when a son takes a wife -- especially when that son "may have been a momma's boy," as Lewis' former Northeastern coach, Jim Calhoun, described him.

"When a man chooses his wife, that bond is sacred," says Jerome Stanley, Lewis' agent at the time of his death. "That's what happens from that point forward. That's what those vows are all about -- who you create your child with, who you grow old with."

A stable influence

Some viewed Harris-Lewis as just what her husband needed.

"She was always a good student, and I thought she gave Reggie stability at home," says Karl Fogel, who, as assistant coach at Northeastern, recruited Lewis out of Dunbar High.

"I knew what Reggie was making in his early years, and it wasn't a lot of money," Fogel says. "But the first thing he did was buy his mother a house -- nothing extravagant, but it was comfortable.

"Once the money started rolling in, a lot of people became friendly with Reggie, and he wasn't sure what to do with it. He started throwing it away.

"Donna took control of the situation. She made Reggie aware of a lot of traps, took care of his home and his children. She solved more problems than she created. She was good for him."

Lewis' first cousin, Perry Dozier, agrees.

"I see Donna as a person who loved him, and helped him grow as a person," says Dozier, 28, the manager of a Big & Tall clothing store in Columbia, S.C.

"We all have our way of looking out for people we love, and Donna has her way. I don't think she intentionally tried to hurt anyone in our family, but she looked out for him inside and outside the family.

"Donna is an outspoken, strong black woman, and it's hard to find women like that, like the old black women. Reggie was over-generous with his money, but Donna believed Reggie should not give anything without a person earning it."

Reggie and Donna Lewis were an American success story -- children who grew up poor in single-parent homes, then realized great riches and a family of their own.

To Fogel and Dozier, it seems only natural that Harris-Lewis, a native of Bridgeport, Conn., grew fiercely protective of what she and her husband had earned.

Yet, it isn't only Lewis' relatives who feel cut off.

Mark Reeves, a classmate of Lewis' at Northeastern, the best man at his wedding and godfather of his first child, once considered himself close to Harris-Lewis.

L Now, she no longer responds to his letters or returns calls.

When asked if he is still the godfather of Reggie Jr., Reeves says, "I don't know necessarily how true that is anymore. I don't know if it's written in stone. I would assume someone else has that role at this point."

Kevin McDuffie, a childhood friend of Lewis' from Baltimore and later his teammate at Northeastern, says he has received one call from Harris-Lewis since Reggie's death.

"She's very difficult to get along with," McDuffie says. "Why? I'd rather not say. Donna is just Donna. That's all I got to say about that lady."

A threat to Harris-Lewis

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