In addition to his work at C&P, Lewis engaged in numerous philanthropic and developmental activities outside the office. Chief among these were his appointment to the Greater Washington Board of Trade and his efforts to create and implement a home rule charter for the District. He also used his fund-raising skills to promote such charities as the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation, the United Way, the YWCA, and Washington’s Arena Stage. In 1993 Lewis estimated that he had helped generate almost $180 million in charitable donations for these and other foundations.
Lewis’s career was the subject of much speculation in the early 1990s. Most observers assumed that the executive–one of Washington’s most prominent African American businessmen– would either move into the top ranks at Bell Atlantic or perhaps into a position within the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton. The October 1993 announcement that Lewis would take over National Public Radio, an enterprise about a tenth the size of Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone, came as a surprise.
Lewis took the helm of a financially stable network, the largest public broadcasting outfit in radio, early in 1994. A majority of NPR’s operating funds come from fees paid by the 480 radio stations nationwide that air NPR programming. Still, the fees account for only 65 percent of the annual budget. Other sources of revenue include federal grants and the increasingly important donations by private individuals and corporations. Lewis will be expected to use his fund-raising skills–especially in the greater metropolitan Washington, D.C., area–to generate income for the company. A new fund- raising arm, the NPR Foundation, was begun in 1993 to help spread the word about the network’s needs.