Who is Toby?

Henry Bendon, Staff Reporter

It’s no surprise that there are a number of named spaces around campus—naming expensive projects after donors helps the University Circle community accomplish projects like the Tinkham Veale University Center and the Nord Family Greenway. There is one name, however, that sticks out a little when it appears: Toby. 

Toby has both a plaza and a terrace, which are aptly named Toby’s Plaza and Toby’s Terrace. The two are located in central outdoor spaces—the plaza in Uptown, right next to the Museum of Contemporary Art (moCa) and the terrace on the expanded stage of the Nord Family Greenway.

What makes Toby different is the way things they produce are named and the connections that exist between Toby’s Plaza and some other notable on-campus landmarks. So, who is Toby?

Toby is Toby Devan Lewis, a philanthropist, art collector, author and curator. She serves on the boards of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, moCa and the Cleveland Institute of Art, which has also given her an honorary doctorate. She is responsible for sourcing and managing the world’s largest corporate collection of art, which is held and curated by the Progressive Corporation. She is also the ex-wife of its former CEO, Peter B. Lewis.  

Toby and Lewis were married in 1955 and amicably divorced in 1981, which allowed them to continue to work together at Progressive for the following twenty years. The considerable wealth managed by the two of them has shaped University Circle and much of Cleveland for a long time. 

During his lifetime, Lewis was one of the wealthiest and most influential Clevelanders. The Weatherhead School of Management building that shares his name was funded in part with a $30 million gift from Lewis, and allegedly designed because he wanted his friend Frank Gehry, named the “most important architect of our age” by Vanity Fair, to build something here. 

The power behind his philanthropy was so significant that when Lewis cut local funding in order to punish CWRU for moving in the wrong direction, the university revamped the board of trustees and hired a new president, according to the Cleveland Free Times.

The Free Times has since folded and been incorporated into the Cleveland Scene.