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Wednesday, October 5, 2022


This was the obvious question on the minds of the many people who attended the 25th Anniversary celebration of American Bankers Insurance Company, in the Virgin Islands. The event held at Wyndham Sugar Bay Beach Club & Resort on Saturday, June 12 honored Willoughby Lewis, the man who introduced the company to the territory.
Yes indeed, it was twenty-five years ago that Willoughby Lewis brought the American Bankers operation to the islands. Actually, the first policy sold by Willoughby was on June 10, 1974.
But on June 12, 1999, his first client, Eurita Wright now Eurita Callwood, several of his current and past associates, friends and well-wishers assembled at the ballroom at Sugar Bay to pay tribute to this man, who many of the speakers acknowledged has touched their lives.
The event was planned as a surprise, so the organizers did everything possible to make it seem as though a few friends had asked him and his wife out to a nice dinner. This was not the case because, when Willoughby arrived at the door of the main ballroom, the look on his face told the story; he was in shock. The gathering of almost two hundred people who stood to greet him with the big "SURPRISE" was more than he expected.
Associates from St. Maarten, St. Croix, Tortola and St. Thomas joined with executives from the Miami based American Bankers home office, cheered as he walked in on the white rolled-out runway much like the ones usually prepared for a wedding.
The grand affair seemed to humble Willoughby as he recognized several of the attendees, but the bigger surprise was when forty-five minutes into the program, the main doors opened and in walked his mother who resides in Miami. The moment turned tearful for him as he hugged his mother, sister and brother-in-law.
Ellis Christian, Joyce Gregory and Bernice Stout, the three main organizers of the event, breathed a sigh of relief when they noticed no one had collapse as a result of the obvious shock they knew Willoughby endured when he saw and greeted his family. Willoughby quickly realized his mother was not in Miami, but was at the Sugar Bay Resort celebrating his success.
Members of the Legislature attending were, Senator Donald "Ducks" Cole, Senator Roosevelt David, Senator Allison "Allie" Petrus and Senator George Goodwin, his school-friend who grew up with Willoughby on his native island of Antigua. Also in attendance was Attorney Deverita Sturdivant, from the Commissioner of Insurance office.
Speakers at the event included, Ms. Sturdivant, Claudette Browne, Eston David, Senator Goodwin, Marla Matthew from St. Croix, and yours truly. Sturdivant spoke about her experiences dealing with Willoughby when she was Director of Banking and Insurance. She said that whether he agreed or disagreed with the subject at hand, he was always a gentleman. Claudette Browne mentioned how Willoughby had touched her life by constantly sending her letters about the insurance industry, and how she too could be a success. She continued by saying, "when I finally responded, his coaching and teaching transformed my life."
Eston David told a story about Willoughby's mother asking him to prayer for her son, not because he was sick, but she wanted him to turn to the Lord as his Savior. The senior Mrs. Lewis obviously remembered the conversation, because she raised her hands high in the air when David said "the mission was accomplished." Marla Matthew remembered how she was recruited in 1980. She said she was on crutches with a broken foot, but the success she achieved with American Bankers far exceeded the pain of the broken foot.
Willoughby is known as a tough disciplinarian, and who would know that better that his childhood friend, George Goodwin. Goodwin spoke about Willoughby's early days in St. Thomas. The comments brought many laughs, but the big laugh came when he told the crowd that those who missed the event really missed something, because "seeing Willoughby cry was a-once-in-a-lifetime event."
I took the time to point out to the attendees how Willoughby has helped in the development of a middle class life style for this territory, during the final quarter of this century. I mentioned that true empowerment comes when people are educated, when they own their homes and when they have money in the bank. I went on to say that,
"Ralph Paiewonsky and the University of the Virgin Islands provided the education. Sidney Kessler and Co-built provided the Tutu and Monbiju homes. Willoughby Lewis and American Bankers provided the system for accumulating money."
I reiterated a story of an American Bankers customer who came to my office to get a loan from her insurance policy. When she discovered she had $3,088 in her account, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "Mr. Brathwaite, I have been working for some thirty years, and this is the most money I have ever had at any one time in any one place." To me that is empowerment. Willoughby later told us that there are some fourteen thousand people here in the territory that may tell a similar story, all because of the system, and the people that make it happen. Willoughby told the crowd about his relationship with his Lord, and thanked everyone for their love and support, but that was after he received numerous gifts and plaques and a airline ticket to his native island of Antigua, booked with hotel accommodations and daily massages.
Those of us who truly know the story can attest to the fact that lives have been changed because of Willoughby's tireless efforts to share his knowledge, his time and in some cases, his money which helped move people forward. When people move forward, families move forward, when families move forward, society moves forward. This was the theme on Saturday. As we sang, spoke and listened to each other; we also prayed for the people of this territory, that all whose lifestyles have been changed because of Willoughby's empowerment, will not just keep the wealth and knowledge gained for themselves, but will share them with others who are less fortunate.
Can one person truly make a difference? YES, when SHARING and CARING become the order of their life.

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