When it comes to managing change in your life and career, Ambassador Delano Lewis could write a book. Thankfully, he has written two, with his son Brian and his spouse Gayle. In his first, It All Begins with Self, he shared tips on discovering your passion and connecting with people. Now, he offers his personal memoir, No Condition is Permanent, taking you on personal tour of his early life. Each chapter engages you into the real-life story of a small-town boy from Kansas, who kept his dream of becoming a lawyer and learning to navigate his way through the corporate world.
Lewis, an only child, was filled with ambition and the need to serve others from a young age. His father was a porter for the Santa Fe Railroad for 37 years, and his mother didn’t work outside the home until he was in junior high school. “They believed strongly in education and stressed it as a way to advance and succeed,” he says. “It always starts with a strong family foundation, and that doesn’t necessarily mean a mother and a father. It means whatever that familial connection is that gives you love and support. It’s just so crucial.”
Growing up in a segregated community, Lewis managed to use his charm, work ethic and intellect to connect with others and advance his life’s goals and ambitions. His dedication to truth and integrity gained him the trust of many people that helped him climb the ladder throughout his career.
We caught up with The Ambassador to talk about the message of the book. “When I was in the Peace Corps in Nigeria and Uganda, there were these trucks called lories that had these wonderful African proverbs on the side,” Lewis shares. “One that really stuck with me was ‘No condition is permanent’. It’s a mantra that, if things are great, you realize you’re on a high, but things could change. If you’re really low, and things are down, you realize that it can go up. So, life is about change and how you manage it.”
Lewis also says, “I think the book has resonance on the political landscape of today. We need dialogue among groups, people, races and cultures. We don’t need to be spread apart, because we have more in common than we have dividing us. But the only way we’re going to know that is to talk to each other. One of the principles I learned in the short time I got to know Nelson Mandela in South Africa when I was the U.S. Ambassador was that he cherished and practiced this principle of inclusiveness.”
Mandela was working on the political crisis in Burundi, where there were 16 political parties. “His task was to bring all those political parties to the table,” Lewis explains. “In order to succeed, you need to bring in all of the stakeholders. And that was the miracle of South Africa coming out of an Apartheid system of segregation where the minority white government was controlling the majority black population.”
Here’s what Lewis shared about the book’s themes:
“I’ve always had a passion for the law and to serve. I discovered my passions fairly early in life and followed through on them. I attended Sumner High School, the only black high school in Kansas at the time. It was named for Senator Charles Sumner [an abolitionist], who was caned for his support for Black people in the U.S. In my yearbook, they listed my ambition as lawyer. I just felt the use of the law could change things. So, I graduated at age 17 and became a lawyer at 24.”
“I’ve been active in politics for a number of years. I went to my first political convention in 1972 with delegate Walter Fauntroy. I was active with Marion Barry when he first ran for Mayor. I worked on the Gary Hart campaign when he was running for President. I moved into national politics when I supported then governor Clinton on his campaign for President of the United States in 1992. Whether you’re actively running for office or being active in voting for those politicians who can represent your interests, I believe it is very important to always vote.”
“If you have issues you care about and things you want to achieve, you need to figure out a game plan on how to get to the results. I learned that from the business world. The power comes in understanding what your end game means. What is the result and how are you going to achieve it? If it’s changing laws, who has the ability: city council or state government? Is it legislation through Congress that can effectuate your change? Or a simple regulation that’s promulgated by your local county commission? What are you trying to achieve, and what is that power source to help you achieve it?”
“If you want to exceed in life and manage your life well, you should think about your purpose and value of what you’d like to do. Be open to new opportunities; you may have to move outside your comfort zone. I did that when I left the practice of law on the government side and moved into the Peace Corps and served overseas. When I left telecom and became the President of NPR, I moved from the business world into the not-for-profit world. Take some risks.”
About Ambassador Lewis
Delano Lewis was nominated by President Clinton as U.S. Ambassador to South Africa. After confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Lewis served in South Africa from 1999 to 2001. Soon after graduating from Kansas University in 1960 with majors in political science and history, he earned a law degree from Washburn University School of Law. He has held leadership roles with the Justice Department and in the Office of Compliance in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as the Peace Corps in Nigeria and Uganda. He was named CEO of Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company and President of Bell Atlantic/DC, now Verizon. He has served on the boards of directors of multiple Fortune 500 companies.
Lewis and his wife Gayle met in college and have been married 58 years. Gayle is an accomplished author, educator and former Chair of the Board of Foundation Schools in DC and Maryland. They have four sons – all entrepreneurs – and 11 grandchildren, including a lawyer, social worker, professional tap dancer, Peace Corps volunteer, some working full time, others in college and high school. Delano Jr. (Del) is a former marine engineer and current entrepreneur. Geoffrey owns a company in online education and training. Brian is a chef, life coach and author. Phill is a director and actor (Mr. Moseby on The Suite Life series on Disney Channel).
Ambassador Lewis speaks regularly to people who are interested in advancing their careers. He gives commencement and keynote addresses throughout the country. To follow his events and purchase his books, visit www.ambassadordelanolewis.com.