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Remembering Larry Lewin: A Legacy Of Accomplishment And Mentorship



May 16th, 2012

On April 29, 2012, four days after his 74th birthday, Larry Lewin (pictured below) died from complications of an underlying cancer. The funeral was May 1 and his wife, Marion asked me to speak briefly about his professional life. What follows is adapted from those remarks. It will be obvious that anyone who knew Larry will be able to expand these remarks and add to the list of accomplishments that I have chosen to illustrate my points.
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Photo of Larry Lewin by Dennis Kan (click photo to enlarge)

In June 1970 Larry and some friends founded what would become The Lewin Group. I’m going to focus on the time Larry and I were together. My company, ICF, merged with the Lewin Group on Veteran’s Day 1987, and 12 years later Larry “retired” from corporate life at Lewin. When Larry left The Lewin Group, it had grown from shared offices on Capitol Hill to a company with 5 offices in North America, 3 offices in Europe, an office in Israel and South Africa and 2 offices in Australia. The sun never set on Larry’s “empire”.

During our 12 years, although we didn’t own it, we sold the company twice, but even with 3 different corporate parents we always kept the independence and objectivity that were the hallmarks of who we were. Larry would say that “we’ll wash windows but we won’t take dictation”.

A Distinguished Career

Last August we celebrated Larry’s many professional accomplishments at The Lewin Group and elsewhere. It was a day that Washington will never forget — the earth literally shook. August 23 was the day an earthquake shook Washington, seriously damaging the Washington Monument and National Cathedral.

I could dwell at length on Larry’s accomplishments, but I will mention just a few of them:
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  • The Medicaid report. This was Larry’s first foray into health policy. He served as  Vice Chair of the McNerney Task Force on Medicaid during the Nixon administration. The Task Force produced a report for the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare calling for an overhaul of the federal-state division of costs and responsibilities for the Medicaid program.
  • Helping merge major academic health centers. This was an activity Larry truly loved, convincing both sides that 1+1 really equaled 3. Probably the best known of these was the Beth Israel-New England Deaconess merger.
  • Providing strategic direction to all of the top five academic health centers in the US (some more than once). In addition to this, Larry provided what he called “executive coaching” to the leaders of several academic health centers.
  • Helping not-for-profit hospitals understand their responsibility to their communities and how to measure their success in meeting it. Indeed, one hospital association executive credits Larry with inventing a career, as today most tax-exempt hospitals have several people dedicated to the provision and reporting of community benefit.
  • Helping to reorganize several operating units of HHS.
  • And, of course, our non-partisan critique of the Clinton health care reform plan. This led the Wall Street Journal to run a feature on us with a quote from a well-respected healthcare lobbyist that perhaps captures the essence of what we were. He said, “I don’t go anywhere in this town without being armed with a Lewin study. You can’t win without it.”

In the “post-Lewin Group era” Larry served as a Regent of the Uniformed Services medical school and participated in a study of military medicine and the treatment of our “wounded warriors”. Indeed, in August 2007 Larry made a “field trip” to Iraq for that study. He also continued his efforts at several not-for-profit organizations dedicated to improving the health of us all, and that’s just a partial list.

A Teacher And His Treasured Legacy Of Students

But as important as all of those things were, Larry’s real legacy and the thing he was most proud of were the people who worked at The Lewin Group: how they grew and what they became, whether at The Lewin Group or, more often, after they moved on. While he might not have been able to recall the details of all the studies I cited, he could easily remind me of all the weddings and children of Lewin Group “alumni.”

After he left The Lewin Group, Larry and I regularly met, and I can’t remember a single time when the conversation didn’t turn to the accomplishments of one or another of our alumni. What I came to realize was that Larry’s true love was being a Rabbi (which really means teacher). Through The Lewin Group, Larry seeded the country with exceptional hospital administrators, health system executives, association leaders, and leaders of consulting companies (some of whom even competed against us). To listen to him talk about them and their accomplishments was to understand the pride and “nachas” (or joy) he felt about the new generation of health care leaders he helped nurture and teach.

That is why, although he is no longer with us in body; his wisdom will always be part of who we are.

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