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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.

She returned to Baltimore in April 1992, and started drawing unemployment in June. Ritch could not work for the Lewis foundation -- she says Harris-Lewis was going through a difficult pregnancy, and all foundation activities were on hold.

Asking for money

It wasn't until May 1993 that Ritch approached her son for money again.

She and several other relatives were visiting Lewis at a Boston hospital after his collapse during an NBA playoff game. Lewis was in a jovial mood, having just been diagnosed by Mudge as suffering from a benign fainting condition, not serious heart trouble.

Ritch, though, was facing her own medical problem -- a blockage a major artery. Her health insurance was running out, and she needed money to make three $188 payments.

She asked her son, Jon, if the time was right to ask Reggie to pay for the insurance.

"I don't see why it would be a problem," Jon replied.

Peggy Ritch says Lewis agreed to make the payments. But the next day -- Mother's Day -- he called back to say the matter would have to wait.

Ritch now lacks medical insurance, and says she cannot afford the procedure to remove the blockage in her artery.

"That was the lowest point for Peggy," her sister, Lynette, recalls. "She asked Reggie to help her, and he said fine, he would. The next day on the phone, after talking to his wife, Reggie told his mother no.

"At the end of the conversation, he said, 'Oh, by the way, happy Mother's Day.' It hurt Peggy deep inside."

Ritch bursts into tears recalling the incident.

"She [Harris-Lewis] said it was very poor of me when he was on his sickbed to give him a bill," Ritch says. "But they had told me everything was OK. I didn't know he was so sick. I would never have done anything to hurt him."

At the time of his death, it seemed Lewis was growing closer to his mother.

"They had just started talking and were starting to understand each other," Jon Ritch says. "It was getting better. Reggie had things on his mind he wanted to confront my mother with. It was definitely going in a positive direction."

Ritch says the third opinion he received from a team of Los Angeles heart specialists "woke him right up" -- not only about the seriousness of his heart problem, but also about his fractured relationship with his family.

The Los Angeles specialists concurred that he had a fainting condition, but said he also might be suffering from a potentially serious heart defect and should be closely monitored during activity.

Ritch talked with Lewis for the last time four days before he died. She says Lewis planned to return to Baltimore to undergo further testing at Johns Hopkins Hospital and to pay off the mortgages on his mother's and sister's homes.

"He said he was going to take control of everything," Ritch says. "No one was going to be speaking for him anymore. He was going to be handling things himself."

Now, more than a year after his death, his mother and widow are barely in contact.

"It seems like Donna is making an effort to get closer to my mother, but at the same time, she's distancing herself," Jon Ritch says.

"She'll do things like send her flowers on Mother's Day or her birthday. At the same time, she'll change her phone number and not tell anyone. It's contradictory."

Harris-Lewis recently sent Ritch a book -- "In the Spirit," the inspirational writings of Susan L. Taylor, the editor-in-chief of Essence magazine. Ritch says she found it helpful.

On the other hand, Ritch says she won't accept an invitation from Harris-Lewis to attend the Celtics' retirement ceremony for Lewis' No. 35 this season.

"If the Celtics don't get in touch with me, then we won't be there," she says.

And so, more than a year later, the Reggie Lewis tragedy endures.

"Sometimes, you wonder how one group [of doctors] could see one thing and one see another, but that's life," Harris-Lewis told the Boston Globe in July. "We cannot say whether it was his time or not. That's up to God."

"I harbor no ill will against anybody," Harris-Lewis said. "It's wasted energy."

Ritch fumes over such words.

"In Boston, everything is forgiven, everything is forgotten," Ritch says. "Not here. It's not forgiven. It's not forgotten. My child is dead. He's never going to come back.

"Just to say, 'Everything is OK, the slate is wiped clean,' it's OK for those people to say. It was not their child. Donna can replace her husband. I can't replace my son."

How will divides Lewis estate

The only way Reggie Lewis' relatives in Baltimore would receive money from his estate is if they survive his widow, Donna Harris-Lewis, and her two children, Reggie Jr., 2, and Reggieana, 7 months.

In that event, the estate would be divided into 10 shares, each worth 7 percent, according to a copy of the will obtained by The Sun from Norfolk County Probate Court in Dedham, Mass.

OC Five Baltimore relatives would receive shares -- Lewis' mother,

Inez "Peggy" Ritch; his father, Irving Sr.; his brother, Irving Jr.; his sister, Sheron; and his half-brother, Jon.

The five other shares would go to Harris-Lewis' mother, Sarah; her twin brother, Donald; her aunt, Laura Surles; the best man at their wedding, Mark Reeves; and the maid of honor, Darlene Dorcinvil. The other 30 percent of the estate would go to the Reggie Lewis Foundation.

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