Resolute entrepreneur, Doris Lewis, is a ‘Special Person’
“Although in life there will be ups and downs, you must do what you believe in with all of your heart and soul. Don’t lament over something you don’t like.”
By Sharmain Grainger
Our Special Person this week, Mrs. Doris Ann Lewis, has been described in many circles as
a woman of substance, one who has exemplified, on too many occasions for this article to encapsulate, that with passion and dedication any and all things are possible. In fact, her contribution to society through intrinsic involvement in the business community has been so notable that she has been the recipient of numerous accolades.
Many individuals are willing to share how they have been touched by this iconic woman, but it is so much more captivating to hear her recollect that even from humble beginnings great things could materialise.
Almost anything she has embraced over the decades has been transformed to success, a trait she still possesses and has evidently transferred to her seven offspring. Backed by her husband of 44 years, Victor Lewis, she has over the years been a force to reckon with in the business community even opting to put country first when greener pastures were easily accessible.
Doris Ann was born to parents Mr and Mrs Seecharran Jagdharry, in Rose Hall Town, Corentyne, Berbice, on December 8, 1946. She was the second of two children. By the time she was around five years old, her father decided to bundle up the family and move to Georgetown. He soon established a small grocery shop at their Albert and Lamaha Streets residence, which was the family’s main source of income.
As part of her integration into city life, the young Doris was enrolled at the Christ Church Primary School and later attended Christ Church Secondary. She subsequently went on to the Oriental College to complete her ‘O’ Level examinations before entering the Young’s Business School.
Already furnished with a wealth of business knowledge from her father, the blossoming young lady took a leap into the world of work, venturing to secure a place at Sankar Brothers, which was a distributor of Mercedes Benz vehicles. She had also gained short-term employment with an Indian National who had spotted her one day while visiting her father’s grocery shop.
“He was curious whether I could type…I told him yes, but I would have to ask Daddy first…and so he hired me to type and do his payroll…it was a lot of work, but I handled it well,” Mrs Lewis recounted.
She also reflected on how she became involved with Victor, the love of her life, whose home was at the time situated directly opposite to her father’s Alberttown premises. She recalled how he (Victor) one day made the bold step to invite her out to a social event, and though not keen on indulging in such an affair at the time, she gracefully obliged.
The result was long-lasting, as in a matter of years, 1968 to be exact, they decided to tie the knot. Their union produced seven children – George, Dionne, Andrew, John, Joel, Joseph and Crystal – all of whom have embraced and are integrally involved, in one way or another in the sterling business identity of the family.
Mrs Lewis, a resident of Cedar Court, Lamaha Gardens, recalled that there was one point in her life that things could have gone very differently. At the time she had only mothered two children and made what she thought was an ingenious decision to further her studies overseas, leaving her husband and children behind.
She left for Canada on a student visa, but soon realised that her family needed her more. Her concerns were brought to the attention of the Immigration Office in Canada, where she was informed that it was possible for her entire family to travel to Canada to be with her. “In those days it was easy to migrate…but my husband would not hear of it…he just was not willing to leave Guyana and move to Canada.” She returned to her family less than a year after her studies commenced. Her knowledge in accounting would enable her to land a job at Medical Arts three days after returning to Guyana. She would remain there for just about one year after which she became pregnant yet again, bearing her husband a third child, and decided to be a stay-at-home mom, at least for a while. The birth of four more children would follow.
“I stayed at home for a bit but then I saw an opportunity and took a job at Geddes Grant as Secretary to the Manager…I always ended up in some area of financing even though I hadn’t gotten to complete my studies and I was good at it.”
The Geddes Grant office, she recounted, was located at Providence, East Bank Demerara, at the time, and so her husband would take her to work each morning in his car before heading to his place of work as General Manager and Director at Marics on Robb Street in the city. It was a tedious task for her husband, she recalled, an observation which caused her to request a transfer to a Georgetown location.
With a keen eye on the finances of her home and a desire to see her family live a more comfortable life, Mrs Lewis made the monthly sacrifice of ensuring that one pay cheque (either her own or her husband’s) was secured in a savings account. This move, together with their working experiences, was the main the factor which propelled the couple into spearheading their own business venture.
Mrs Lewis revealed that by the time her husband was ready to retire they had already envisaged a plan and were able to make the ambitious decision of establishing the once popular Regent Motor Spares, a store which specialised in importing and selling English spare parts for motor vehicles.
Success was inevitable, effectively moving the family to a plateau of excellence in business, so much so, that Mrs Lewis embraced the idea to open another business simultaneously. This time the venture was the Gift Centre. Both businesses were located at Regent Street, Georgetown.
However, Mrs Lewis revealed that destruction would bring down both businesses when a fire erupted in 1996. Regent Motor Spares was no more but Mrs Lewis was determined to continue the Gift Centre. The very year of the fire, a bigger and better Gift Centre was relocated to Hadfield Street, and has remained a thriving entity at the very location. Her mission, however, was to expand, and so a family decision was made to open another branch in Kitty, Georgetown. That location has since been converted to a DVD Club, operated by a tenant.
However, this was not the end of the visionary business ventures of Mrs Lewis who by this time was very conscious of the fact that her children were already adults and needed guidance to help channel them into successful projects. This, by extension, saw the creation of one of her sons’ popular business, John Lewis Styles, in 2003. By 2008, another flourishing venture – Shoe Source – was created.
“We… My husband and I, worked all our lives so that we could pave the way for our children. I have basically been able to retire in a sense, and have been able to pass on my knowledge to my children…”
However it is not only her children that have been able to benefit from Mrs Lewis’s invaluable business sense – the young individuals who the family employed over the years have been furnished with lessons on financial management and the importance of sacrifice. “The staff might think the worse of me at times, but they can tell you how I urge them to study, ask questions and be acquainted with things. You have to make sacrifices in this life before you can accomplish what you want.”
According to Mrs Lewis, it is her expectation that persons she comes in contact with will remember her for being caring to others.
“I try to do the exact thing that Jesus wants you to do – care and respect others and be humble at the same time…”
She recalled that although her own upbringing was premised on the Wesleyan belief, by the time she became a young adult she embraced Catholicism. In fact, she devoted more than 20 years to Catechism, teaching young children the faith. She embraced her belief so wholeheartedly that she and her husband made the decision to become Lay Ministers, which required them to indulge in several years of study.
Perhaps it was her earnest religious principles that saw her embracing the activities of the Radio Needy Children’s Fund. She was introduced to the compassionate undertaking in 1996 by Mrs Bernice Mansell, who currently heads the Bernice Mansell Foundation.
“I was surprised at how much she was doing. I thought it was only just about parties for children, but when I saw the scope of what was being done I immediately wanted to volunteer to this cause.”
By 1998 Mrs Lewis was appointed Treasurer of the Radio Needy Children’s Fund, and with the help of her many business acquaintances, she was able to rake in a phenomenal amount of funds to aid the work of the charitable organisation. She was also able to introduce a number of notable programmes to help bolster the effectiveness of the organisation. To this day, her dedication and contributions to the organisation and even the wider society have been deemed extraordinary.
“We (the family) promote in our own way education, sport, youth, and we have given to (Government) Ministries and the Police Force, but we don’t make it public unless the recipients want it to be known.” The contributions over the years have nonetheless been recognised and duly rewarded.
The businesswoman of more than 30 years, in amplifying the importance of giving back to the society, asserted that “although in life there will be ups and downs, you must do what you believe in with all of your heart and soul. Don’t lament over something you don’t like otherwise it won’t like you back.”
Commenting on the current business climate, Mrs Lewis opined that it is time that Guyanese recognise their country for what it is – a truly wonderful place which is unlike many other territories. In fact, she is optimistic that Guyana’s financial rating is set to escalate with the looming discovery of black gold.
“I honestly believe we will strike oil one day, and what a better place Guyana will be. We are on the course for even more development and so we just have to stay true to our homeland.”