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Part 8

100 Movers And Shapers

Sydney Lewis
(1919-1999) b. Richmond
and Frances Aaronson Lewis
(1922- ) b. Brooklyn, N.Y.
While transforming a small family book business into Best Products Co. Inc. (at its peak a $2 billion catalog-showroom retailer), the Lewises amassed a dazzling collection of art nouveau, art deco and late 20th-century art. In 1984 their holdings were installed in a handsome wing they contributed (with art collector Paul Mellon) to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Politics, film and theatre, education, cutting-edge music, performance art, architecture and tweaking the establishment also fascinated this inseparable and generous couple.

Judge Robert R. Merhige Jr.
(1919- ) b. Brooklyn, N.Y.
In June of last year Judge Robert R. Merhige Jr. retired after 31 years on the U.S. District Court bench in Richmond. His was an illustrious career of landmark decisions, praise and criticism. Of his notoriety, both good and bad, Merhige confessed in a 1987 Richmond Times-Dispatch article: "Where I'm lucky is, when I make a decision I have no doubt in my mind it's right. Now that doesn't make it right, and I might be wrong as I can be. But in my mind it's right. I have peace of mind of not making it unless I'm satisfied it's the right decision." Merhige's rulings more often than not split Richmond conservatives and liberals. Mehrige ruled for desegregation and consolidation of Richmond schools, due process for inmates, maternity leave benefits for pregnant women, the release of White House tapes related to Watergate. He heard cases of Indians charged with crimes at Wounded Knee and oversaw cases regarding breaches made by Westinghouse Electric Corp. and the bankruptcy reorganization of A.H. Robins.

Merhige, now 80, is anything but retired. Today he still works part-time for Hunton & Williams.

Robert Watkins
(1920- ) b. Richmond
and Stoner Winslett
(1958- ) b. Jacksonville, Fla.
Robert Watkins co-founded the Richmond Ballet in 1957 and served as its artistic director from 1961 through 1976. He brought the likes of dance legends Natalia Makarova, Jacques d'Ambroise and Edward Villella to the Richmond stage and also produced the city's first full-length "The Nutcracker."

After resigning from the Richmond Ballet in 1976, Watkins co-founded the all-volunteer Concert Ballet of Virginia and today remains as its artistic director.

Stoner Winslett moved to Richmond in 1980 to head the Richmond Ballet. Today the Richmond Ballet employs 18 professional dancers from as far away as Russia and Venezuela, and thanks to the ballet's acclaimed dance school, from our own backyard.

One of only a handful of female artistic directors of major ballet companies, Winslett also produces her own choreography.

The Rev. Curtis Holt Sr.
(1920-1986) b. Rocky Mount, N.C.
A civil rights activist and president of the Creighton Court Civic Association, the Rev. Curtis Holt sued to block Richmond's annexation of 23 square miles of Chesterfield County, saying it diluted black voting strength, a violation of the 1965 Civil Rights Act. The suit suspended City Council elections from 1972-1977. In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the annexation but mandated a ward-based voting system. The 1977 ward elections gave African-Americans their first council majority and first mayor, Henry Marsh III.

Newton H. Ancarrow
(1920-1991) b. Richmond
and Ralph White
(1944-) b. New York, N.Y.
Both men have affected the course of the James River - one from his sense of outrage at its polluted state and the other by guiding others along its banks and across its currents.

Newton Ancarrow was a boat designer whose "Aquilifer" speedboat could do 60 m.p.h. But he never allowed such clients as the king of Greece or tycoon Aristotle Onassis to visit his Richmond boat yard because of the foul condition of the James. "To call it filthy is an understatement," he once said. Ancarrow became a crusader for cleaning up its waters, founding the environmental group,"Reclaim the James Inc." in 1969 and filing a $2 million lawsuit in 1975 against the City of Richmond for fouling the water: The suit was eventually dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

It's been years since former Peace Corps worker Ralph White started a wildlife center in Thailand, realizing that folks will protect the environment only if they feel a personal connection to it. Now, as senior naturalist and director of the James River Park System for nearly two decades, White forms such connections locally by offering up a taste of wild licorice to cleanup volunteers or releasing bass with Girl Scouts.

James C. Wheat Jr.
(1920-1992) b. Richmond
Jim Wheat's typical greeting was "Good to see you." The good-humored financier and power broker knew the irony of his words: He was blind. "Everyone has something," was how he dismissed the disability. His investment firm became Wheat First Union. In the '60s he served on City Council and was a leading voice for downtown development while raising funds for Virginia Union, VCU and Richmond Community Hospital.

A. Linwood Holton
(1923- ) b. Big Stone Gap
A. Linwood Holton, Virginia governor from 1970-74, led the efforts to desegregate Richmond's schools by escorting his daughter, Tayloe, into predominantly black John F. Kennedy High School at the start of the 1970 school year. While Holton's administration also saw efforts to clean Virginia's rivers and an increase in funding to the mental health and school systems, desegregation is his lasting legacy. In a 1987 interview in the Richmond News Leader, Holton said, "I think the need to have a black person feel a real part of this democracy and this republic ... is the greatest need of our time, and I think I was the first governor of Virginia who gave that real emphasis."

Dika Newlin
(1923- ) b. Portland, Ore.
Eccentric punk-rock icon, performance artist and VCU music professor Dika Newlin has influenced hundreds of musicians and composers in Richmond. A child prodigy, she studied with noted composer Arnold Schoenberg, about whom she later wrote a definitive biography. She has taught one Pulitzer-winning composer and was a long-time music critic for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Ironically, she's probably better known for her strange double life as an avant-garde rocker and her appearances in a string of low-budget horror videos.

Nina Friedman Abady
(1925-1993) b. Steubenville, Ohio
A cultural and civil rights activist, Nina F. Abady may be remembered by most as the founder of Downtown Presents, a nonprofit organization promoting what she felt Richmond needed: a downtown venue where all people could meet for cultural events, performances and other entertainment. Abady spearheaded annual events at Festival Park such as the New Year's Eve celebration and Friday Cheers, as well as other crowd pleasers like the Big Gig, the 2nd Street Festival, Legendary Santa/Santaland and Hoop It Up. Nina Abady's involvement in civic affairs was always motivated by her insistence on inclusiveness and community participation. It is only fitting that Festival Park was named for her after her death in 1993. A gift to Richmond, her legacy continues to make us sing, dance and put our hands together.

The Lambert Family
Evidence of Virginia continuity can be found off Ridge Road at the home of Mrs. Benjamin Lambert Jr. Lamberts have lived here since the Civil War. And here, hard work, devotion and graciousness became the trademark of a family. Frances and Benjamin Lambert Jr. started a catering business, raised seven children - all of whom graduated from college - and secured for themselves a chunk of property in the ever-evolving suburban West End. And all that was accomplished at a time when it was difficult for an African-American couple living in Richmond to do so. It's not that the success of the Lamberts is surprising, but rather that the legacy of Benjamin Jr. and Frances - to love your family and aim high in your ambitions - has rooted itself tenaciously in three successive generations. Benjamin Lambert III has served as state senator. The Lambert family is testament to what Ben Lambert IV says in the 1991 Style Weekly cover story on the family. "It's a different type of work ethic, a different type of pride within

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