Llewellyn’s Last Days Were a Tug of War

When the black millionaire entrepreneur became ill, it set off a struggle for control of his treatment -- and his last days.

J. Bruce Llewellyn

Bruce Llewellyn’s last days were anything but peaceful. The wealthy black entrepreneur got caught in a battle for control of his treatment, his residence – and his money. According to the New York Times, Llewellyn, who made his fortune in supermarkets and a bottling company, gave control of his treatment to three close friends, instead of his wife of 30 years, Shahara Ahmad-Llewellyn.

Mr. Llewellyn, a Harlem-born entrepreneur worth about $170 million, had run companies, served presidents, sat on bank boards and had powerful friends like Bill Cosby and Gen. Colin L. Powell. But at 80 years old and in failing health, he found himself chasing visitors in his wheelchair as they headed for the 10th-floor elevator, his once powerful 6-foot-5 frame struggling to keep up. A fall and other ailments had forced Mr. Llewellyn into rehabilitation, and after several months, his doctors said he was well enough to return to his Central Park West apartment. But his wife of nearly 30 years disagreed, saying he was too ill.

Finally, he persuaded three longtime friends to supersede his wife’s authority over his affairs. They became his court-appointed guardians, assumed control of his bank accounts, found him a new apartment, hired staff members and brought in flowers, artwork and musicians to brighten his days. But months later, when he began losing weight and the guardians authorized a feeding tube, his wife strenuously objected. She cited his living will, which explicitly barred tubes and other artificial life-prolonging measures. “What happened to, ‘First, do no harm’?” she wrote angrily to one doctor.

Mr. Llewellyn finally succumbed to his illnesses on April 7 and was buried at a cemetery in Valhalla, N.Y., in a hillside plot that he and his wife had selected and that now bears a monument they had designed. But in recent years, just about every other decision about Mr. Llewellyn’s life evolved into an epic battle of wills. On one side was his wife, Shahara Ahmad-Llewellyn, a society fixture with her own coterie of powerful friends; on the other, his three friends, who pursued what they understood to be Mr. Llewellyn’s wishes as his mounting medical problems took their toll.

For families across the country, the loss of mental acuity raises difficult questions about when people should be forced to relinquish control of their lives. How that is done, and who gets authority over someone else’s fate, can embroil families and friends in intractable disputes that sometimes end up in court.

Read the full story in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/nyregion/09bruce.html?ref=nyregion