Longtime Transportation Executive Arthur D. Lewis

Arthur D. Lewis founded two airlines and saved another from bankruptcy.
Arthur D. Lewis founded two airlines and saved another from bankruptcy. (Family Photo)
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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Arthur D. Lewis, 89, a transportation executive who led Hawaiian, Eastern and USAfrica airlines, oversaw the creation of Conrail from seven bankrupt railroads and was the top executive at the American Bus Association, died of congestive heart failure Jan. 12 at Riderwood Village in Silver Spring.

During his 50 years in the business, Mr. Lewis was considered a turnaround specialist who rescued an airline from bankruptcy, led one of the biggest airlines in the business, saved rail transportation on the East Coast and founded two small airlines of his own.

His rescue of Hawaiian Airlines, which he ran from 1955 to 1964, was cited in a business textbook as an example of good corporate leadership.

Mr. Lewis ran the now-defunct Eastern Airlines from 1966 to 1969 as the president and chief executive after two previous years as its senior vice president and general manager. At the time, Eastern was expanding its successful shuttle service, introducing flights to the Bahamas and Seattle.

He was a New York investment banker when President Richard M. Nixon appointed him to incorporate Amtrak in 1970. Four years later, Nixon made him the first chairman and chief executive of the U.S. Railway Association, a nonprofit, government-owned corporation whose aim was to reorganize seven bankrupt railroads into Conrail. In December 1974, he was elected chairman of the Conrail board of incorporators, where he served until 1977.

By the time he retired in 1982, he had also spent five years leading a bus industry association and founded and run Mid Pacific Air Corp., the parent company of an inter-island carrier in Hawaii.

In 1990, he co-founded and chaired USAfrica Airways, which flew from Dulles to South Africa in the mid-1990s.

Mr. Lewis was born in Greenville, Tex., and grew up in Austin. He attended the University of Texas but, lacking six hours of undergraduate French, never received his bachelor's degree in economics or his master's degree in business administration. He later attended an advanced management program at Harvard University's Graduate School of Business.

In 1941, he joined American Airlines as an economic research analyst in the planning department. During World War II, he worked as a civilian at the Air Transport Command in Washington. After the war, he returned to American, rising to assistant vice president of planning before going to Hawaiian Airlines.

He had lived in the Washington area since 1977, in Potomac, Bethesda and Silver Spring. He was a member of the Metropolitan Club and Burning Tree Country Club.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Hildegard B. Lewis of Silver Spring; two children, Kimberly K. Lewis Gibson of Vienna and Gregory S. Lewis of Chevy Chase; a sister; and five grandchildren.

-- Patricia Sullivan

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