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Reggie Lewis: The lost captain of the Celtics

Jimmy Myers
Reggie Lewis: The lost captain of the Celtics
Reggie Lewis PHOTO: Courtesy of Duke Basketball Report

With this current edition of the Bay State Banner, we mark 30 years to the day of the sudden and tragic death of Reggie Lewis, captain of the Boston Celtics, who left this world at the tender age of 27.

Lewis’s death shocked the sports world, but his mother and family have felt more incredible pain since that memorable day.

My late mother, Naomi Mae Myers, once told me: “There is no pain that can match that of a mother who has lost a child.”

I have heard those same words many times over the years as I have tried to comfort far too many mothers standing over a gravesite, grieving over the loss of a child.

I recently heard those words from Ms. Peggy Ritch, the mother of Reggie Lewis:

“I remember the day as though it were yesterday. I received a call at work. I was told to call home immediately. I thought the call was about one of my children, Sheron, Irvin, or Jon — not Reggie. I had just talked to him, and he seemed fine. When I received the news that he had collapsed, I went right home and stumbled around, waiting for news about my son. I was in the kitchen when the story of his death came on television. I could not believe it. Moments later, I received a call from his wife, Donna Harris-Lewis, telling me that my son had died. I screamed, dropped the phone, and collapsed to the floor. Nothing in my life has ever been the same since that day.”   

Peggy Ritch continued: “For the next several weeks, I just drifted through my life. But it all came crashing down around me on November 21, 1993 — my son’s birthday. I lost myself that day. I screamed with rage as I stormed through my house, ready to destroy anything in my path.” 

Only a mother who has lost a child could know that feeling.

“My memories drifted to two tender moments of my son’s life,” Ritch said.  “The first was of a puppy that Reggie deeply loved. The puppy’s leash got tangled and hung the little thing. Reggie cried uncontrollably. I put my son in my arms and held him close until he calmed down.”

“The second moment of despair came when Reggie had his bicycle stolen,” she said. “I told him we would get him a new bike as soon as possible, but it took some time due to our tough financial situation. Those two memories still stick out in my mind to this day. I am sure that any mother reading will understand what I mean.”

A conversation with Irvin (nicknamed Mack) Lewis brought up other familial reflections:

“The people of Boston got to know my brother Reggie for the many charitable things he did in that city. ‘The Turkey Giveaway’ gained a lot of publicity, but he did so much more for the people in Boston — always quietly. Very few know of his generosity to the Baltimore community. He also had a ‘Turkey Giveaway’ at Dunbar High School [where he attended]. To this day, people still come up to me and say that they still have the bag that their turkeys came in. They also tell me of things my brother did for them out of the goodness of his heart.”

But he had a special love for his family. Mack went on to say: “When Reggie got Reebok to sponsor him. I and more people [than] I could count received sneakers and all kinds of equipment.”

But other moments are etched in the mind of Mack Lewis about his younger brother nicknamed “Truck”:

“I played against my brother when he was at Dunbar. Dunbar was the top high school basketball team in the country, and they killed us. But what sticks out in my mind is that Reggie, my younger brother, let me shoot a shot that he could have easily blocked. He just smiled at me as we went up the court. That was my tenderhearted brother.   

“On a more personal note, Reggie helped me through my battles with addiction. I have been drug-free for seven years. My way back from addiction started with my brother Reggie’s help and support all those years ago.”

The most challenging part of this story is what follows: Peggy Ritch and her family have been estranged from Donna Harris-Lewis and her two children, Reggie Jr., 31, and Reggiena, 30.

“One of the last memories I have is Reggie Jr. giving me a huge hug when he was 12. I could feel my son, his father, in that hug,” Ritch said. She said she was “null and voided from her son’s will.”

When I asked her if she had heard anything from the Boston Celtics organization in the 30 years since her son’s tragic death, she said, “I have not heard a word from the organization.”

She stated for the record: “I am not bitter or angry with anyone for the way I was treated over these years.”

Her son Mack put things this way: “My mother should not have had to work as hard as she did over these many years. My brother built a fortune with his hard work. She should have been better cared for.”

Ritch recently retired. She and her children wear special medals to remember Reggie Lewis — the Lost Captain of the Boston Celtics. The Celtics, the city of Boston and many other people owe this family so much more. Thirty years is far too long for this level of suffering.

Boston Celtics, Reggie Lewis, Sports