Former US Ambassador, NPR President Dead at 84

( – African American lawyer, businessman, and diplomat, Delano Lewis, had a distinguished career in the government and private sectors spanning six decades. A native Kansan, he eventually settled in New Mexico. Sadly, his hometown newspaper, The Las Cruces Bulletin, reported that he died on Wednesday, August 2, at Mesilla Valley Hospice & Palliative Care. Lewis was 84 years old.

The Distinguished Public Service Career of Delano Eugene Lewis

Lewis attended undergraduate school at the University of Kansas, graduating in 1960. He received a Juris Doctorate from Lawrence and Washburn University School of Law three years later.

After leaving school, Lewis worked in various government positions for the next ten years, starting as an attorney with the Department of Justice’s Washington, DC, office. He followed up with jobs at the Equal Opportunity Commission and US Peace Corps, serving as the associate director for Nigeria and the country director for Uganda.

Lewis worked as a legislative assistant for former Sen. Edward Brooke (R-MA), the first African American voted to the Senate, and Walter E. Fauntroy (D-DC), the former delegate at-large to the House of Representatives for the District of Columbia, a non-voting position.

In 1973, Lewis entered the public sector for several years until former President Bill Clinton nominated him to serve as the Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa in June 1999. The Senate confirmed his appointment in November of that year, and he served until mid-July 2001 before returning to non-government jobs.

National Public Radio and Other Private Sector Work

In 1973, Lewis started working for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company in Washington, DC, eventually working his way up to CEO. At the same time, he promoted efforts to establish “home rule” for the District and was described by many as a power broker in DC politics.

Lewis took a pay cut to become the first African American to serve as National Public Radio’s (NPR’s) chief executive officer in 1993. He told the Christian Science Monitor that he wasn’t a journalist or broadcaster but knew “something about communications, management, and working with organizations” to boost their productivity. He said he wanted NPR to be a player in the 21st century in the field of telecommunications and aimed to move the company in the right direction.

Lewis headed up NPR until 1998. He planned to retire to New Mexico at the time. However, as noted in his autobiography, “No Condition Is Permanent: A Collection of Memories,” he received a phone call from then-Vice President Al Gore advising him of Clinton’s nomination.

Upon his return, New Mexico State University named him to serve as a senior fellow. He founded the school’s International Relations Institute in 2007, and the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas named him its Kansan of the Year in 2008.

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