It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Lewis Bear, Jr., age 82, a loving family man, a prominent businessman, philanthropist, and lifelong resident of Pensacola, FL. Lewis passed away on Friday, March 3, 2023, surrounded by his family. He was born on February 10, 1941, to Lewis Bear, Sr., and Peggy Loeb Bear.
Lewis was a highly regarded leader in the Pensacola community and the state of Florida where he was well-known and respected for his business and philanthropic contributions. His work and dedication touched the lives of countless people and will continue to have a profound impact on the community for generations to come.
Throughout his life, Lewis was known for his unwavering commitment to his family and his deep devotion to his wife Belle. In March of 1966, Lewis met Belle Yates of Selma, AL. Six months later the two were married. They shared countless memories together and he was quite proud to always have Belle by his side. Lewis leaves behind his beloved wife, Belle, of 56 years. He is also survived by his three children, Lewis Bear III and wife Jennifer (Taylor) Bear, Cindi (Bear) Bonner and husband Chad, and David Morris Bear and wife Cindi (Flanders) Bear, all of Pensacola; his brother, Donald Bear, and his nephew and nieces. Known to them as “Poppy”, Lewis adored his four grandchildren, Lauren and Lewis “Chad” Bonner, and Julia Belle and Max Bear, to whom he would affectionately express to each, “I love you the all”. Lewis is preceded in death by his parents Lewis and Peggy, and his sister, Susan Bear Leath.
Lewis attended PK Young school in Pensacola before earning his high school diploma in 1959 at the Webb School in Bell Buckle, TN. In 1960, Lewis attended Vanderbilt University to study Chemical Engineering before transferring to Troy State University where in 1963 he earned Bachelor of Science degrees in both Math and English, with a minor in Art.
Upon graduation, Lewis joined the United States Air Force Reserve as a Technical Sergeant before his Honorable Discharge in 1969.
In 1965, while in the United States Air Force Reserves, Lewis began his career at The Lewis Bear Company, a family-owned wholesale grocery and beverage distribution business founded in 1876 by his great-grandfather. Working the next 20 years in various positions, Lewis earned the role of President and CEO in 1985 where he remained until the time of his death. In 1995, after selling the grocery business to Grocery Supply Company and acquiring the beverage business from his extended family, he was instrumental in its growth and expansion, which became a major distributor of Anheuser-Busch and other beverage products in Northwest Florida. The Lewis Bear Company is the oldest, continuously family-owned Anheuser Busch wholesale distributor in the world, and the oldest privately held corporation in Florida, facts he held close to his heart.
Apart from his business ventures, Lewis was also deeply committed to his community. He was involved in dozens of philanthropic organizations and was a major contributor to healthcare, education, and cultural initiatives in the Pensacola community.
Recently, Lewis was the former board chairman for the Pensacola-Escambia Development Commission (PEDC), a sustaining member and executive committee member for Florida’s Great Northwest (16 county economic development organization), a member of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, and a Life Trustee for the Pensacola Museum of Art.
Lewis served over ten years on the University of West Florida’s (UWF) Board of Trustees, including terms as Chairman, where he was instrumental in the development of the university infrastructure, programming, and processes. He served as a past member of the UWF Foundation board of directors, campaign chair for the UWF Foundation, and a Fellow for the UWF Foundation. He was recently bestowed an honorary doctorate degree of Humane Letters (DHL) generally awarded for significant contributions to society and a lifetime of service.
Lewis established multiple endowments, the Lewis and Belle Bear Facilities Endowment Fund at Temple Beth-El, the Lewis Bear Company Endowment for Excellence in Business Education at UWF, as well as the Bear-Bonner Endowment Fund at Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research. He also created scholarships at both Pensacola State College and the University of West Florida. Lewis served as chairman of the board for the Pensacola Escambia Development Commission and chairman and board member for the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce, where he also served three years as vice chairman for economic development, as well as a board member for the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Lewis served as board chairman and campaign chair for United Way of Escambia County, chairman for the Pensacola Museum of Art, Trustee for the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC), and a long-time board member of the Pensacola Interstate Fair. Lewis was a founder and charter president of Five Flags Rotary, a founding member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida, and a board member of the Baptist Health Care Foundation. Lewis served as a board member and past chairman of Fiesta of Five Flags, where he also holds the title of Don Tristan DeLuna XLIX and is a proud member and past board chair of the Order of Tristan. On a state-wide basis, Lewis served as a board member of Space Florida, Enterprise Florida, Inc., and Florida State University’s Ringling Museum in Sarasota, FL. Lewis was a founding board member of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association and served as that organization’s first board chair. After serving many years as a board member for the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, Lewis was a board member of the Beer Industry of Florida, chairman of the Anheuser-Busch Wholesaler Advisory Panel, and board member for the North American Wholesale Grocers Association. Lewis was appointed by Florida Secretaries of State to serve three separate terms on the Florida Arts Council and was appointed by the Florida Senate to serve on the Statewide Health Planning Council. He served as a board member for the Tourist and Convention Commission (TACC), vice president at Arts, Culture, and Entertainment, Inc. (ACE), and was a board member and past president for the Pensacola Country Club. He was appointed by Governor Rick Scott to the board of Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. where he served as vice chair.
Lewis’s legacy will continue to live on through his family and the various charitable organizations he supported along with his wife Belle and their children. Through his generosity, the Bear Family Foundation was established in 2007. Since that time, the family foundation has contributed nearly $14 million to 114 nonprofit organizations in the communities served by The Lewis Bear Company. His dedication to improving the lives of others and giving back to his community is an inspiration to all who knew him.
Lewis was recognized for his commitment to serving others. Among the honors and recognitions received include:
• United Negro College Fund, Distinguished Leadership Award, 1983
• Pensacola Chamber of Commerce designations include:
• Pace Award, “Business Leader of the Year”, 1985
• Distinguished Service Award, 1988
• Pace Award, “Spirit of Pensacola”, 2001
• Board Member of the Year, 2011
• Pace Award, “Pioneer” 2013
• Pensacola Museum of Art, Life Member of BOD, 1992
• United Way of Escambia County
• Distinguished Community Service, 1999
• Tocqueville “Legacy”, 2004
• American Cancer Society, Excalibur, 2003
• African American Heritage Society, Heritage Award, 2005
• American Heart Association, Chairman’s Award, 2007
• Independent News Weekly
• Power List, 2008-20, Most Powerful, 2010
• Best Politically Connected, 2011, 2012, 2013
• Best Person to Have on Your Side, 2013
• University of West Florida, Foundation Fellow, 2010
• Florida Bar, Liberty Bell Award, 2013
• Rotary International, Service Award, 2013
• Boy Scouts of America, Golden Eagle Award, 2013
• Florida Trend Magazine’s Most Influential Business Leader (retail/wholesale), 2018
• Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research, Honorary Endowment Award, 2017
• Florida Beer Wholesalers Assoc., Lifetime Service, 2021
• National Beer Wholesalers Assn., Life Service Award 2022
• City of Pensacola, Key to the City, 2022
• University of West Florida, Honorary Doctorate Degree, 2023
• A Paul Harris Fellow, 2023
Lewis will be greatly missed by his family, friends, and the communities he served. A visitation will be held 4:00pm – 6:00pm Thursday, March 9, 2023, at Temple Beth-El of Pensacola, 800 N. Palafox St, where Lewis was a member his entire life. Funeral Service will be held 10:00am Friday, March 10, 2023, at Temple Beth-El of Pensacola, 800 N. Palafox St., with Rabbi Joel Fleekop officiating. Interment will follow at Temple Beth-El Cemetery, 2300 West Cervantes St. At the conclusion of services, a reception will be held at the Pensacola Art Museum, 407 S. Jefferson St, Pensacola, FL.
Serving as pallbearers will be Dick Appleyard, Max Bear, Chad Bonner, Lewis “Chad” Bonner, Sam Camariotis, Jeff Eischeid, Don Gaetz, John Kennelly, James Leath, Charles Liberis, Lumon May, Collier Merrill, Mort O’Sullivan, Fred Silverstein and Sam Schreiber.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to any of the following charities:
The Lewis and Belle Bear Family Facilities Endowment Fund at Temple Beth-El, 800 N. Palafox St. Pensacola, FL 32501, https://templebethelofpensacola.org/donation-form/ or to the Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St. Pensacola, FL 32502, https://uwf.edu/university-advancement/departments/development/give-now/donate/pensacola-museum-of-art/ or to the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research, 1 Bubba Watson Rd. Pensacola, FL 32504, https://rallyfoundation.org/rally-gulf-coast/
The family would like to thank the medical care team in Pensacola. Thank you to Dr. Brent Videau, Dr. Humam Humeda, Dr. Fernando Kafie, Dr. Jolita Klementaviciene, and KC Gartman, whose support went above the call of duty. We would also like to thank Dr. Ryan Alexander, Dr. Eddie Greene, and Dr. Michael Mikhail at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN for their incredible care during the most difficult time. Thank you to Covenant Hospice for your love and care in his final days.