Fulton Lewis, Lecturer, Journalist, Consultant


Real Lives: Fulton Lewis
Navigating Life with a Chinese Fortune Cookie

Fulton Lewis, III, son of one of America’s most famous pioneers in the radio industry, was exposed to the cream of distinguished political leaders from the time he was a child, but after graduating from the University of Virginia – where he majored in Speech (Radio/TV and Political Science) and with 12 years of private schooling on his resume – he chose to play the piano in a cocktail lounge in New York City for two years. Lewis says he kept his vocation a secret from his father, implying that he had a management position in the restaurant. It was a fortune cookie that changed his life.

Lewis Senior flew into the city from Washington, D.C. to have dinner with Dick Berlin of Hearst Publications and chose Clavins where he assumed his son had important connections.

“Imagine how he felt when he entered the smoky cocktail lounge with its vocal yuppie crowd and saw his son playing the piano at one end.” Lewis Junior recalls. “The next day my father and I met for dinner at a Chinese restaurant and he lectured me politely about my choice of career. Before leaving, I opened my fortune cookie and it read: ‘A man should not spend all his time in frolic.’ I still carry that little slip of paper and it has influenced my whole life. Not long after that I gave up the piano – Peter Duchin took over when I left – and tried my hand at broadcasting.”

Like his father and grandfather, Fulton Lewis, III was born in the nation’s Capital. Nearly every weekend prominent men and women visited the family estate in southern Maryland enjoying “Placid Harbor’s” 13 miles of waterfront property on the coves and creeks of the Patuxant River.

Always privileged, the younger Lewis attended Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland and graduated from Charlotte Hall Military Academy in southern Maryland, and went on to the University of Virginia. A self-taught pianist, he wrote the score for two of the school’s Punch & Julep Club musical comedy presentations.

After his rebellious stint of cocktail lounge entertainment, Lewis moved to Jamestown, New York to assume the position of News Director at radio station WJOC. At age 23, he returned to Washington work as the Research Director of the House Committee on Internal Security for the United States Congress.

“I produced and narrated its controversial film ‘Operation Abolition’ (the narrative was written by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover) that unveiled the role of subversive organizations in the 1961 San Francisco student riots,” Lewis explains. “It was to defend the validity of that documentary that I left the Committee and embarked on a lecture and debate tour that ultimately took me before audiences at more than 750 college/university campuses, and in front of numerous civic, political and educational audiences. My debate opponents included Communist Party leader Gus Hall, Norman Thomas and Michael Harrington of the Socialist Party, and numerous other spokespersons from America’s political Left. All the time I was fingering that little slip of paper from the fortune cookie.”

In 1962 Lewis was named National Field Director of Young Americans for Freedom, a youth organization founded by conservative leader William F. Buckley, Jr. He also served on the National Committee of the Young Republicans. In 1964 the tireless young man was a speechwriter in the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater, traveling over 60,000 miles in just 60 days into 46 states.

In 1965, after the death of his father, Lewis took over the nightly 15-minute news commentaries aired on more than 650 stations of the Mutual Broadcasting System. He also appeared frequently on NBC and ABC television. As a White House and Capitol Hill correspondent, his broadcasting experience involved frequent contact with many top political leaders including Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan. He also interviewed world famous figures like Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel, Ian Smith of Rhodesia, President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam … to name just a few.

“I covered many of the world’s hot spots,” Lewis recalls. “They included four trips to Vietnam, two to Israel – the first was to cover the famous 6-day war in 1967, Rhodesia, Nigeria and Biafra during the civil war there, and the conflict in Northern Ireland. My days as a pianist in a cocktail lounge seemed to have never happened!”

After Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as President in 1980, Lewis retired from broadcasting and moved to Florida.

“There was nothing important enough to keep me in Washington so I had a big garage sale, packed up and moved to Ft. Lauderdale where I once had a vacation home,” Lewis explains. “But Lauderdale wasn’t it for me. I tried Ft. Myers for a while and then a friend suggested the Sarasota area. I loved it right away and met a Bradenton schoolteacher named Barbara Swanson. Barbara and I owned a sailboat dealership for a while before I was hired as Sales Manager of a Bradenton auto dealership. I developed computer software programs that enabled salespeople to stay in touch with their customers, and later started a local company that specialized in customer relations.”

Lewis has three children by a previous marriage. He and wife Barbara live in River Club with three pet dogs. On most weekends they can be found aboard their boat, “Fulton’s Folly,” based at Longboat Key Moorings, where Lewis serves on the Board of Directors.

The couple love Sarasota and all it has to offer, and Lewis maintains a close but behind-the-scenes involvement in both local and national politics. He continues to play the piano for recreation.

“I just keep going,” he says. “I hate negativity. I’m an optimist. I like answers, not problems. I don’t see retirement in my future. I just hope for good health and productivity.”                         

Brooksie Bergen

Fulton Lewis

Fulton Lewis at his desk

Attitudes Magazine
October, 2006


  Back to Top