In 1947, Geraldine Bock got her first job with Baton Rouge construction and properties magnate A.C. Lewis and never left.
By never, we mean … never.
Five days a week, Bock, 88, still reports for duty at A.C. Lewis Management, handling money for the business, where she “sets the code of conduct, so to speak for everybody,” said Alex Lewis, a son of the company’s founder, who died in 1985.
“Not to be spoke of,” Lewis said. “She won’t have that conversation. She gets tired every now and then, but that’s only if she’s been sick.”
“My hand fits a pen much better than it does a vacuum cleaner,” Bock said. “I’ll have to be taken out of here.”
Bock grew up in Crosby, Mississippi, a town between Natchez and Vicksburg, and took a train to Baton Rouge to attend a business school, after which she was hired by Lewis Construction as a secretary, later becoming the company’s bookkeeper.
“He had two other employees at the time,” she said. “As the business grew, I guess you could say I grew with it. Mr. Lewis liked to watch over his jobs, so he was the outside man, and I kind of kept things going in the office.”
When she was hired, the office was on Lofaso Street, near Florida Boulevard, a few blocks east of the Baton Rouge General Hospital. Lewis later moved his operations to the Bellemont Hotel, which was a thriving enterprise before the construction of Interstate 10 dried up U.S. 190 and Airline Highway as the major driving route through Baton Rouge.
In its heyday, though, the Bellemont drew an interesting clientele, including famed Hollywood stars like John Wayne, Brigitte Bardot, Clark Gable and James Arness when they worked on movies being filmed in the area.
“Clark Gable ate (there) quite a lot,” she said. “At that time, the Bellemont had a fantastic restaurant with a good chef, and he ate a lot there and ate at the Village. I got to see him a lot more than the others. He was (friendly). He looked bigger than everything on the screen, but he wasn’t that big a man. But he was very friendly.”
The elder Lewis’ death left Bock as the person who knew the most about the business when the younger generation had to take over.
“We had a lot on our laps, the boys and I,” she said. “But I was able to acquaint them with the different business functions. We had several companies, and everybody knows we went through the bankruptcy on some of the properties, but we ended up with quite a lot of the properties, and they’ve done a magnificent job.”
Bock has three children — Andrew Jr., Elizabeth and Woody — 10 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Her first husband, Andrew Day, died in 1967, and she married Heinz Bock in 1976. He died in 2002.
Bock recently slipped and fell, injuring her back, but that has only slowed her down a little, Lewis said. Given that her mother lived to 102, he’s counting on her to be in the office for some time to come.
“She handles my personal business, and a lot of the personal business left over from my mother and father’s succession, and many other things around the office, mostly handling money,” Lewis said. “I asked her, ‘I wonder how many checks you’ve signed in your life.’ We don’t know what the number is, but it’s got to be way up there.
“She’s still as sharp as she can be. She’ll take a walk after lunch each day and watches what she eats. We all have a joke at the office that we’d like to bleed her a little bit and get some of that blood.”