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Lewis was born in Wilmington, North Carolina on July 6, 1918. In that same year, he moved with his family to St. Augustine, where he lived at Kirkside, the Henry Flagler home, inherited by his mother, Flagler’s niece, until her death in 1937. He attended Woodberry Forest School and the University of Virginia. He withdrew from the School of Architecture at the University in 1941 to enlist in the Armed Forces during WWII. Commissioned at Ft. Hood, Texas, he was later wounded in Italy while on duty with the 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Lewis received three battle stars and two purple hearts during his service with the Fifth Army.
Following the war he pursued various business interests. In 1955, he built a resort called Peace and Plenty in George Town, Exuma, the Bahamas. In 1964 he developed the Blockade Runner Hotel in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. During the 1960’s he rose from executive vice president to chairman of the Flagler Systems, Inc., a company formed by the merger of the Florida East Coast Hotel Company and the Model Land Company. The major properties operated the Flagler System were The Breakers in Palm Beach and the Hotel Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine. In 1975, following the reorganization of Flagler System, Lewis sold all of the hotel properties, except those in northern Florida.
"Not since railroad magnate Henry Flagler descended on little St. Augustine, Florida, has one man so affected the nation’s oldest city," said the writer of an article in the National Trust for Historic Preservation magazine when the trust chose Lewis as a recipient of an Honor Award for his work in restoration and preservation.
Perhaps Lewis’ greatest achievement is reflected in Flagler College, the independent liberal arts college established by Lewis in 1968. The college is housed in the original Hotel Ponce de Leon. Lewis devoted much of his time and resources to the continued development of Flagler College, serving as chairman of the Board of Trustees for 20 years, until he became Chairman Emeritus.
Renovation and preservation of the hotel as Flagler College totaled more than $14 million. This significant undertaking was planned and executed under the leadership of Lewis and was funded, for the most part, by him and members of his family, the Flagler Foundation and the Kenan Charitable Trust. Lewis’ contributions to the college have also taken the form of scholarships and endowments and of new buildings funded fully or in part by him, including a gymnasium, auditorium and a residence hall named Lewis House in recognition of his many contributions to the college.
Lewis' deep connection with St. Augustine led him to become involved with the restoration and development of Historic St. Augustine. The Flagler Foundation, established by Lewis’ grandmother, became a principal contributor to the St. Augustine Foundation, allowing major restorations in the City from 1965 to the present. Lewis was president of both the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board and the St. Augustine Foundation, which also funded a number of significant research projects and archaeological studies in Florida and Spain.
Governor Bob Graham and the Florida Cabinet, in a resolution adopted December 15, 1985, commended him "for his remarkably generous support given to historic preservation and higher education in our State over the course of many years, for the fineness and fitness of the projects in which he has given life and permanence, and for the distinguished example of public service that he provides a grateful citizenry."
At a cost approaching $3 million, he created a film about the City’s founding, "Dream of Empire." He also funded the microfilming of the one-million page private archives of the family of Pedro Menendez in Spain by the Center for Historic Research at Flagler College in cooperation with the University of Florida.
When the City of St. Augustine conferred its highest honor, the Order of La Florida, upon Lewis in 1984, University of Florida history professor Dr. Michael V. Gannon likened Lewis’ impact on the City to that of Pedro Menendez, who founded the City in 1565, and to Henry M. Flagler, who influenced its development at the turn of the century. The St. Augustine Record, in an editorial on that occasion said, "We know of no other single person who has had such a profound impact on contemporary St. Augustine as has Lawrence Lewis."
Lewis House, Flagler College, 18 Valencia Street
Web site for Flagler College