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David Eaton LeFevre

January 8, 2023

David Eaton LeFevre passed away on January 8, 2023, following a long illness that brought to an end an outstanding career as a sports enthusiast, businessman, and lawyer with an international practice.

Known to friends as “Feves,” he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and from early years he was active in and very good at sports and an ardent fan of Cleveland’s professional and semi-professional sports teams; and he probably came naturally to be interested in international relations on account of time spent with his grandfather Cyrus Eaton, famed financier, businessman, and advocate of world peace. He prepared for Yale at The Hawken School and Western Reserve Academy.

Feves was in Pierson and always involved in the college sports—soccer and touch football, basketball, and baseball, in addition to Freshman Tennis, for which he earned his numerals, and a year of Varsity Tennis. He was a member of Pierson’s “1400 Club,” consisting of seven roommates and an extended family of “unofficial roommates” whom he remembered for the 50th Reunion of the Class of 1966. Feves felt “lucky” and expressed gratitude to them and to Yale for providing him “an everlasting camaraderie and friendship that is invaluable.”

A History major with focus on Latin America, Feves entered the Peace Corps after Yale and was assigned to Uruguay. Uruguay, he said, “was a wake-up call for me about the world.” Among other things he did there, he helped in the organization and conduct of FIBA’s International Basketball World Cup in 1967, which Uruguay hosted. He learned and became fluent in Spanish; in later years he accompanied his grandfather Cyrus Eaton on trips to Cuba, serving as interpreter during meetings with Fidel Castro. Following the Peace Corps, David entered Michigan Law School, where he emphasized International Law courses and graduated in 1972.

David joined and later became partner and member of the Management Committee at the New York City law firm of Reid & Priest. He handled corporate and business work and developed an international practice. He represented major Japanese team owners in the negotiation of a commercial consulting agreement with the New York Yankees—”the first relationship between American and Japanese baseball teams—first for most sports.” Some years later he represented the Yankees in negotiations with Fidel Castro to arrange for the first game between an American Major League Baseball team and the Cuba national team, only to have MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn nix the deal.

About the same time, the Houston Astros were in serious financial straits, and the Astros’ General Manager contacted LeFevre to help form a syndicate to buy the team, which he did, saving the team. He was personally instrumental in bringing in a new general partner and limited partners, with Feves becoming a limited partner and the second largest investor in the team.

Almost certainly David’s greatest achievement in sports and practice was with the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning. Japanese clients whom he’d represented in negotiating with the Yankees contacted him about the opportunity to obtain an NHL franchise in Tampa Bay. On Feves’ analysis and recommendation, they made the $50 million investment to acquire the franchise, and David became the team’s chief administrator — he was called “the Governor.”

Among other critical steps, he had to locate a place for the team to play, which became a subject of real controversy among investors. LeFevre chose an underdeveloped area of downtown Tampa, put together a hugely successful public-private partnership, and oversaw construction of the world-class Ice Palace, home to the Lightning and a major sports and entertainment hub which spurred further development. Maintaining his law practice at the same time, he would work indefatigably, late into the night, so much so that he earned the nickname “the Count”—after Dracula of course. Divorced and without children, he said, he could put in the hours required. For the city and the team, and for him, the crowning achievement would be Tampa Bay’s winning the Stanley Cup in 2004.

Feves was a smart and driven but funny, dry-witted, and thoughtful good guy. He is survived by his older brother Robert and nephews. A Celebration of Life held for him at the Yale Club of New York welcomed numerous friends and family from across the country to celebrate his life and his many friendships and achievements.

— David Walker