The Emily Couric Leadership Forum plans to honor Charlottesville native and one of the famed Charlottesville 12, Sandra Wicks Lewis, with its Women’s Leadership Award at its upcoming annual luncheon.
The award recognizes “a woman of international or national distinction who exemplifies leadership in her profession and in her community,” according to the forum named after the late Democratic state senator and the award’s first recipient.
Lewis is one of the first 12 Black students in Charlottesville to attend the city’s previously all-white schools in 1959.
“At the age of nine, she, along with eleven other students, integrated the public schools in 1959 after a one year period known as ‘Massive Resistance’ when two schools in Charlottesville were ordered to be closed by the Governor and the local school board, rather than obey a court order to integrate,” a profile of Lewis on the forum’s website says.
Lewis is a graduate of the University of Virginia, earning her bachelor’s degree in sociology at the school in 1972. She went on to get her master’s in business administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 1980.
“Her class at UVA was the first class of women to graduate from the College of Arts and Sciences, and she was also the first African-American woman to graduate from the College of Arts and Sciences,” the forum says.
With a long career in financial services, Lewis has worked for Merrill Lynch, Nations Bank and Nations Bank’s successor Bank of America.
“She credits being a child thrust in the middle of the integration and civil rights movement in Charlottesville for her motivation and ability to enter jobs in management and financial at a time where there were few if any women and minorities,” according to the forum.
Lewis has served on numerous nonprofit boards including Leadership Nashville in Nashville, Tennessee; United Way of South Hampton Roads; and the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk. She has also served on the UVa Alumni Association Board of Managers and is currently a charter member of the Advisory Board of the Karsh Institute of Democracy at UVa.
Lewis is also responsible for establishing the Charlottesville 12 Scholarship Fund at the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation for graduating students at Charlottesville High School as well as a donor adviser fund in her parents’ name: the Robert and Elizabeth Wicks Fund for local community organizations.
In its profile on Lewis, the Emily Couric Leadership Forum pointed out “an interesting twist of fate”: Lewis attended the same elementary school where the forum’s namesake began her activism in the Charlottesville community.
“It was at Venable Elementary that Emily began her activism by volunteering in the 1980’s as a reading teacher, then promoted to room mother. Venable principal at the time, Dr. William Chapman, urged Emily to become vice-president and then president of the Parent Teacher Organization. Emily said that was the beginning of her political career,” according to the forum.
Emily Couric, the sister of journalist and television presenter Katie Couric, died of pancreatic cancer in October 2001.
The 23rd annual Emily Couric Leadership Luncheon is scheduled to take place on April 24. Reservations for the event are not yet open and are expected to become available on March 17.