SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Public relations industry leader Ed Lewi, founder of the eponymous Capital Region public relations agency that managed media relations for the XIII Olympic Winter Games and has assisted in media relations and marketing efforts for The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) since the late 1970s, passed away today. He was 81.
Over a communications career that spanned more than six decades, Lewi and his agency helped contribute to today’s success and popularity of such major local, regional and national attractions as the Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom and played a significant role in the growth of the United States Figure Skating Association. Lewi also inaugurated the Belmont Festival in Garden City, NY, which continues to be a widely popular event on the eve of the Belmont Stakes.
“He helped put Saratoga on the map,” said celebrated philanthropist, thoroughbred owner and breeder Marylou Whitney. “Saratoga is the place it is today because of Ed Lewi.”
“Ed led a wonderful life, the type of life that people should aspire to lead. He was a true gentleman and philanthropist and Marylou and I were honored to call him our best friend, along with his beloved wife, Maureen,” said John Hendrickson. “He gave millions of people joy and fun and we are forever grateful for his exuberant spirit, youthful enthusiasm and boundless energy.”
Lewi began his communications career as a sports writer for The Daily Gazette and worked for the Associated Press and United Press International, as well as doing television and radio broadcasting. During his 18-year tenure with the Times Union, he served in several marketing and advertising capacities.
Founded in the 1960s as a part-time venture while Lewi was employed as promotions director of the Times Union, Ed Lewi Associates incorporated in 1975 and opened as a full service agency with three major clients – the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Charles R. Wood Enterprises (operator of The Great Escape and other amusement parks) and Price Chopper Supermarkets.
The company soon after secured the public relations contract for the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, and later consulted on Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo and Calgary. For the Olympic Games in Lake Placid, the corporation was the public relations agency of record, while Lewi served as the press director of the Games and his longtime wife and business partner, Maureen Lewi, served as director of the Main Press Center.
Upon becoming the public relations agency for NYRA in the late 1970s, Lewi and his agency secured national and international media coverage for Saratoga Race Course through his longtime friendship and association with Marylou Whitney, who together helped brand Saratoga as “the summer place to be.” Lewi conceptualized a number of innovative promotions for the historic sporting venue which continue today, including the annual hat contest, ice cream eating contest and a myriad of festivals and other events and activities that shined a spotlight on the Spa.
Under the direction of Ed Lewi, the agency also secured the marketing and public relations contract for the United States Figure Skating Association, as well as media relations and fan events for several international cycling championships and NCAA events.
“Ed was a giant of the public relations industry,” said Mark Bardack, president of the agency that bears its founder’s name. “Ed’s outsized impact on the biggest attractions in the Capital Region, from Saratoga Race Course to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and his dedication to life altering non-profit organizations such as the Double H Ranch, will be felt for decades to come. Ed had an innate ability to warmly connect with people on multiple levels and made everyone with whom he came in contact feel special. I will cherish the years that we spent together and the many business and life lessons that he taught me.”
Lewi maintained a long history of philanthropy, volunteerism and community involvement to numerous charitable causes, including the Double H Ranch, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Camp Chingachgook and the Capital District YMCA, where he served on each of their board of directors.
Lewi was the recipient of the Silver Medal Person of the Year Award of the Ad Club Association of Professional Communicators and received numerous international, national and local awards for promotional and public relations concepts from such organizations as the International Newspaper Promotion Association, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, the Northeast Society of Professional Communicators, and Editor and Publisher magazine. He is also the recipient of the Freedom Foundation Award.
Lewi also served as honorary lifetime founding vice-chairman of the Double H Ranch, a founding member of the Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing, a trustee of the Capital District YMCA, and a member of the Saratoga Automobile Museum Board of Directors. He was honored by the Saratoga Rotary Foundation for his volunteerism and received the President’s Award and was the first-ever recipient of the lifetime achievement award from the Capital District YMCA.
He was past president of the International Newspaper Promotion Association, the Ad Club Association of Professional Communicators, founding director of the Albany Sports Foundation, past President of the Saratoga Golf and Polo Club, past chairman of the Board of Managers of Camp Chingachgook, and has chaired Capital Fund Campaigns for Camp Chingachgook and the Schenectady YMCA. Camp Chingachgook named the building housing the dining hall, administrative offices and camp store “Lewi Lodge” in recognition of his longtime dedication to the Lake George summer camp for youths. Lewi also served as past officer and board member of many other business, civic and non-profit organizations.
In 2010, Ed and Maureen Lewi sold the company to current agency president Mark Bardack.
Lewi is survived by his wife Maureen; sons Jim Lewi and Joe Lewi; daughters-in-law Lori and Melissa; and his four grandchildren: Gwen, Melanie, Emma and Jacob.