Former Union Pacific Railroad Chief Executive Drew Lewis, who also served as U.S. transportation secretary under President Ronald Reagan during the 1981 air traffic controllers strike, has died. He was 84.
Lewis, who lived on a farm in Lower Salford, a township northwest of Philadelphia, died Wednesday in Prescott, Arizona, of complications from pneumonia, said his son, Andy Lewis.
As Union Pacific CEO, Lewis guided the company during the transition to an era of favorable government regulation that contributed to stabilizing a freight-rail business riven by bankruptcies and unprofitable routes.
“Lewis played a central role in the Union Pacific leadership team that completed key mergers, including the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad in 1988, the Chicago & North Western Railroad in 1995 and the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1996,” Omaha-based Union Pacific said in a statement Monday. “These mergers set the stage for Union Pacific’s exceptional freight rail performance continuing today.”
Lewis retired in 1996 as chairman and CEO of U.P. after a decade with the railroad company.
“Even though he had a much longer and successful business career,” his son said, “his love and passion was always public service and politics.”
As transportation secretary, Lewis was the Republican administration’s chief representative in a bitter labor dispute with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. Reagan fired 11,400 members of the union for mounting an illegal strike. Lewis sought to avert the showdown through negotiation but ultimately backed Reagan’s decision to fire the workers.
Lewis had come to Washington with a reputation for wizardry in the art of the corporate turnaround. After leaving the Reagan Cabinet in 1983 he became chairman and chief executive of what was then Warner Amex Cable Communications, one of the largest U.S. cable companies and a predecessor to Time Warner.
In three years with the company he was credited with converting $150 million in losses into gains between $20 million and $30 million.
Earlier, he amassed a fortune as a businessman. From 1960 to 1969 he worked for American Olean Tile Inc. He later ran Simplex Wire and Cable Co. and Snelling & Snelling Inc., an employment agency, before launching consulting firm Lewis & Associates.
In 1971 he became a bankruptcy trustee of the Reading Railroad, guiding it as it was absorbed into the federally subsidized Consolidated Rail Corp., or Conrail.
Lewis was a friend of Richard Schweiker, Reagan’s secretary of health and human services and, before that, a congressman and U.S. senator. Lewis managed most of Schweiker’s campaigns, ran Gerald Ford’s presidential primary campaign in Pennsylvania in 1976 and advised Reagan in the 1980 presidential campaign. In 1974 Lewis ran for Pennsylvania governor but lost to incumbent Milton Shapp, a Democrat.
This report includes material from the Associated Press and the Washington Post.