In the late 1970s, Phoenix was the ninth-largest metro area in the United States. But the fast-growing city of 1.3 million people was missing something important: a dedicated children’s hospital.
In 1980, at the urging of Herbert J. “Tim” Louis, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and community leader, attorney Jerry Lewkowitz agreed to serve as a founding member of the Phoenix Children’s Board of Directors—and became an essential piece of the team who helped make the hospital happen. Lewkowitz is still amazed by the hospital’s rapid growth and success: “When I drive down the 51, I see what was only a dream is now an incredible reality.”
Lewkowitz, 93, is proud of his Arizona heritage and has an impressive Phoenix pedigree to prove it. He is an alumnus of Kenilworth Elementary School, North High School, Phoenix College and Arizona State University. He served in the Air Force as a JAG officer, as an Arizona assistant attorney general (alongside Sandra Day O’Connor) and as a Phoenix city councilman. He eventually opened the Lewkowitz Law Office with his wife of 30 years, Andrea, who now runs it.
But it was his role in founding Phoenix Children’s that perhaps made the most impact on the state. Despite the “real need for a pediatrics hospital,” it certainly wasn’t easy. Lewkowitz says the inaugural board of directors received substantial pushback, especially considering pediatrics departments already existed at local hospitals.
“It seemed very easy and very logical except for one thing: Nobody wanted a separate children’s hospital at that time—except, of course, pediatricians and families,” Lewkowitz says. The group responded by creating a Blue Ribbon Committee to rally support for the idea. “The committee included well-known and respected leaders like Rose Mofford and Bill Shover—forward-thinking people who could speak up for the children’s hospital,” he says.
In 1983, Phoenix Children’s opened within Good Samaritan Medical Center. And in 2002, it opened the state’s only licensed freestanding pediatric hospital. “We did it one step at a time,” says Lewkowitz, who served on the board for 13 years. “Sometimes we had a step back, but now it’s the envy of children’s hospitals around the country.”
- “I feel a source of pride every time I see that magnificent building or hear about a simple or lifesaving procedure at Phoenix Children’s.”Jerry Lewkowitz
The Lewkowitz legacy at Phoenix Children’s now extends to the next generation. His grandson-in-law, Ben Abelson, MD, is a pediatric urologist at the hospital, and his niece, Jessica Hendricks, is a development officer at the Phoenix Children’s Foundation.
A history of giving
Phoenix Children’s isn’t the only cause Lewkowitz has championed for children; he also served on the boards and as president of Crisis Nursery (now Child Crisis Arizona) and the Phoenix Zoo. “I’ve had two passions in the last 30 years. One of them is the Thunderbirds because they do so much for the community—especially children,” he says. Through its Waste Management Phoenix Open, the group has raised more than $160 million for area nonprofits, including Phoenix Children’s.
His other passion? Supporting the Valley’s Jewish community. “When my parents got married in 1921, there wasn’t a temple in Phoenix. They actually had to bring a rabbi over from El Paso,” he says. His parents would later help found Temple Beth Israel, a congregation that has since included five generations of the Lewkowitz family. The charming original synagogue near Burton Barr Library is now home to the Arizona Jewish Historical Society. Unsurprisingly, Lewkowitz was the organization’s founding president.
Through it all, the great-grandfather of 20 has supported Phoenix Children’s and its mission to provide the best health care to kids in Arizona and beyond. That’s why he and Andrea made a legacy gift to the hospital. “I’m so fortunate I had the opportunity to serve,” he says.
Andrea adds, “There’s nothing Jerry enjoys more than helping others. He’s a good example of how a ripple can become a wave. A little bit goes a long way.”