Gerber's Harriet Lewis Dies At Age 81
Ms. Lewis was one of the first women who has steered a manufacturing company through decades of financial and marketing growth. Since 1953 when she assumed the helm of Gerber Plumbing Fixtures Corp., the company's annual sales volume increased more than ten-fold, from 7.5 million to approximately $107 million at the close of 1998.
Her father, a Polish immigrant who came to the United States as a child early in the century, founded the company in 1932. Upon his premature death in 1953, Ms. Lewis shared the responsibility of heading the company with her brother, Oscar, and her husband, Maurice L. Lewis.
Ms. Lewis is the only woman to have ever been elected to the National Plumbing Hall of Fame. A mother and homemaker at the time of Max Gerber's death, Ms. Lewis had to be persuaded to take over her father's firm. In so doing, she established a thread of family management continuity, which now involves a third generation -- her daughters, Ila Lewis, executive vice president, and Nancy Lewis Pollack. Both retain 100 percent ownership of the company.
In her role as company chairman, Ms. Lewis had long been known as "a people person" who had always mixed compassion and concern for the people around her into her financial and legal decision-making responsibilities. She preferred a first name relationship with employees and business associates.
Despite the demands of business, Harriet Gerber Lewis always made time for deep involvement in community and religious affairs. She chaired the multi-million dollar Jewish United Fund campaign in Chicago, as well as the Chicago campaign for the U.S. Holocaust Museum. She had also done consulting work for charity organizations near her home in one of Chicago's north shore suburbs.
For her leadership in humanitarian activities, she was honored with recognitions that include the Julius Rosenwald and Deborah awards. Ms. Lewis was also elected to the Chicago Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame.
Other surviving family members include son, Alan Lewis, and niece Daryl Stokles.