TRIBUTE: Remembering Peter Lewis

Early last month, the real estate industry was stunned by the news that Peter Lewis, head of Americas real estate investment research at global consulting firm Towers Watson, had died at the age of 61. Beyond his expertise in the private equity real estate sector, his friends and colleagues will remember Lewis for his warmth, wit and sharp sense of humor. 

Pamela McKoin, vice president at Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers, said in an email to PERE that she was “saddened and shocked” to hear about the sudden passing of one of her “favorite real estate professionals.” She added that Lewis was “a quick mind and wit. He will be missed.”

“My friend Peter was witty, thoughtful and a strong advocate for his clients,” added David Glickman, managing director at Pension Consulting Alliance. “I shall miss our good-natured and affectionate verbal jousting.” Glickman also offered his “sympathies to Lewis’ family and his many dear friends.”

Whether responding to colleagues at panel discussions with quotes from vintage Saturday Night Live sketches or writing and performing a song about real estate managers to the tune of Don McLean’s “American Pie” (“So bye-bye, Mr. Manager Guy / Turned my billions into millions / Til the coffers ran dry”), Lewis brought a sense of levity to the industry events he attended, always making them fun as well as informative affairs. 

Jon Willis, the former real estate investment officer at the University of California and current principal at Global Property Strategies, said: “Many of us saw him just over one month ago at a real estate conference, where at one point we broke into small groups to debate designated topics. A representative of each group was asked to summarize the group’s conclusions, and Peter always was chosen as the representative in situations such as this because of who he was. He managed to go a step beyond mere summarization to include a tortured pun, a slightly salacious double entendre and a gentle rebuff to some of our own pretensions. This was vintage Peter.”

“Conferences and annual meetings will seem different without Peter’s presence,” said Russ Bates, head of Americas at Aviva Investors. “While many will remember his quick wit, I also will remember his willingness to spar with managers in a friendly manner, all while keeping a big beaming grin. He was a happy warrior on behalf of investors whose personal generosity and kindness will be missed.” 

In addition to being a conference cut-up, Lewis also was an avid cyclist. “One small fact that most won’t know is that the bike-riding events at most real estate conferences today were Peter’s idea,” said Kevin Maxwell, managing director at TIAA-CREF.

Lewis joined Towers Watson as the head of its US real estate investment research team in September 2011. “I thoroughly enjoyed working with him and benefited from his considerable experience, guidance and humor,” said Douglas Crawshaw, senior investment consultant and co-worker at Towers Watson. “I’ll miss him for sure.”

Before joining Towers Watson, Lewis was a senior investment officer from 2006 to 2011 at Liberty Mutual Group, where he was responsible for the insurer’s $2.5 billion real estate investment portfolio. Prior to that, from 1996 to 2004, he built and managed a real estate and real asset investment portfolio for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Investment Management and MIT’s pension plan, where he made many friends and connections within the industry.

“I first met Peter about 10 years ago when he invested in one of our real estate funds while still at MIT,” said Gil Tenzer, founding member of Contrarian Capital Management. “I always found him to be smart and unconventional in his approach to the industry. Even when he was asking tough questions, it was always with a smile and twinkle in his eye.”

“Peter changed my world,” said Keith Breslauer, founder of London-based Patron Capital, who added that his firm “would not be here if it wasn’t for Peter.” According to Breslauer, Lewis’ guidance, faith in and contribution to Patron’s first fund 14 years ago while at MIT enabled Patron to grow into the powerhouse it is now. 

In his “On the Road” blog, consultant Steve Felix wrote: “Peter Lewis was a gentle soul. His presence and personality will be a loss to the industry he served well.”

“Peter was a wonderful person and a good friend,” added Bill Bowman, an advisor at C-III Capital Partners. “Behind his swift wit and strong opinions was a warm and caring person.”

Lewis is survived by his wife Monica, his children Jeremy and Amanda, his father Gerald and his brother John. Services were private, but donations can be made in his name to the Pan-Mass Challenge, an annual cycling event benefiting the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute that he loved, at or by mail at Pan-Mass Challenge, 77 Fourth Avenue, Needham, MA 02494.