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And thereafter a lasting friendship blossomed

The executive team of the Book Department at the Review and Herald Publishing Association in 1979. Standing are Michel Augsburger, Gordon Harris and Theodore Lewis. Seated is Robert Kinney. Photo courtesy of Theodore Lewis

Lessons from Everyday Life By Theodore Lewis

Bridgman, MI—In the last line of the movie “Casablanca,” Rick says; "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Most all the wonderful friends in my life have come because of family, school, or work activities. Some have become lifelong friends. Sometimes in life, as in “Casablanca,” it takes time and the right circumstances for friendships to develop.

In 1978, I took a job with a publisher that was based in Takoma Park, Maryland. I worked alongside Michel Augsburger, a fellow graduate from my alma mater, Andrews University. Even though I had attended Andrews University at the same time as Michel, had taken a class from his father, and knew his brother Dan well, I had rarely interacted with Michel prior to our moving into adjacent offices at the Book Department of the Review and Herald Publishing Association.

The Review and Herald Publishing Association is a religious publisher owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church that publishes books and magazines with a religious theme.

Michel and I shared a mutual love of books, and we were both excited to learn the business of publishing and selling books for the Review and Herald Publishing company.

In the North American Division of the SDA Church, the organization of Conferences within geographic regions called Unions, includes Conferences of segregated African-American church members. One of the reasons for these segregated Church Conferences has been to facilitate the utilization and development of talented African-American pastors and church administrators.

In 1979, Michel and I were assigned the task of taking the annual "Campmeeting" orders for two major bookstores in the Atlantic Union. Back in those days, each Conference had its own bookstore, called Book and Bible Houses, to promote and sell publications of the Review and Herald, as well as those of other SDA publishers.

The annual Campmeeting orders for each Book and Bible House that the Review did business with, were a substantial part of the annual sales of the publisher. Therefore, these annual book orders were very important to the Book Department of the Review and Herald.

Two large Book and Bible Houses in the Atlantic Union were in New York City. One was operated by the New York Conference (predominantly white members), and one was operated by the Northeastern Conference, which was the African-American Conference for the Atlantic Union.

Michel and I traveled to New York together and shared a room at a two-star hotel in New Jersey just across the river from Manhattan. Michel was assigned to get the order from the Northeastern Conference Book and Bible House which was in a part of Harlem where white people didn't go. I had been assigned to get the order from the New York Conference Book and Bible House in a different part of New York City.

As we discussed our assignments after arriving at our hotel, I could tell Michel was extremely nervous about traveling into Harlem. He asked me if I would mind trading bookstore orders the next day. I stated that I really wasn't interested in trading as this was my first time ever visiting New York City.


With the progression of the evening, Michel became more and more nervous about traveling into Harlem the next day. At some point before retiring, we came to an agreement to switch the next day's assignments. In exchange for Michel treating me to a meal the next evening at Mamma Leone’s Restaurant, I would take the Campmeeting order from the Northeastern Book and Bible House in Harlem, and he would take the Campmeeting order from the New York Conference Book and Bible House.

The next morning, I took a taxi to the Harlem Book and Bible House. I was dropped right at the front entrance of the store and said to myself, "This was easy."

After a few hours of taking the order and completing my assignment, I asked the staff about getting a taxi back into midtown Manhattan where I was to meet up with Michel for dinner. "Mr. Lewis we're sorry, but no taxi will pick you up from our location here in Harlem. You'll have to walk to the end of the block to a major intersection and there you should be able to find a taxi that will pick you up."

What? Walk to the end of the block in this part of town dressed in my newly acquired Review and Herald three-piece blue suit to find a taxi that will take me? Oh no! I had no choice but to start walking.

With each step, I got more and more nervous. Would I be accosted on the sidewalk? With each parked car I passed my heart skipped a beat as my imagination was convinced unsavory characters were hiding to jump out and rob me.

Finally, with a sigh of relief, I reached the intersection where there were supposedly taxis that would "pick up a white person."

I raised my hand at the first two taxis I saw. They both ignored me. Then over the next 10 minutes, I saw at least seven cabs that I tried to engage-- unsuccessfully.


Whatever an ulcer feels like, I thought I was getting one.

Suddenly the apparent windfall of a free dinner at Mamma Leone's was not such a great bargain. Suddenly, my negotiating skills weren't that great.

Finally, a taxi driver stopped and took me to midtown Manhattan.

Today, Michel Augsburger, who is the developer and CEO of Chancellor Health Care, is one of my best friends.

That evening at Mamma Leone's was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Theodore Lewis is the former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a healthcare consulting business in Bridgman, MI. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at

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