Monday, March 11, 2013

In Memorium: Richard Arlen Lewis (10/1/1929 - 3/4/2013)

For most of you close to me know that my grandfather passed last week.  It was a blessing as his health had been rapidly deteriorating over the past six months.  It came down to a question of quantity vs. quality of life.  In his own words, "I've had a good ride. I'm ready to go on."  I was asked to be one of the speakers at his funeral.  It was a little tougher than I imagined, however I was able to get through it with a minimal amount of tears.  Having him in my life has been a great blessing.  He did all he could to ensure I was brought up in the Church and gained a testimony of the Savior.  I owe so much to him.  Preparing my remarks allowed me the chance to get to know my grandfather a bit before his true conversion to the Gospel.  And it also allowed me to see how his conversion helped to mold him into the great man that I know and love.  Below is a copy of my remarks if you wish to read them.  If not, stop here.

Richard Arlen Lewis (October 1, 1929 – March 4, 2013)
As written and spoken for his funeral  by his Grandson, Erik A. Lewis, March 7, 2013
Anyone that knew Granddaddy, knew that he measured time differently.  So I’m hoping that you can bear with me for a minute or two while I share a few things about one of the greatest men in my life.  Richard Arlen Lewis was born October 1, 1929 in New Bern, NC.  He was the son of William Richard Lewis “Captain Dick” and Bertha Thomas Willis (Lewis).  Richard and Bertha had ten children, 9 daughters, and one son.  Two of the daughters Ella Dee and Lucele, passed away after only a year, so by the time that Richard came along he was blessed with 7 older sisters Lillian “Big Sis”, Margarette, Helen, Bertha Gray, Louise, Rosa Lea, and Ruth (ages 19 to 5).
His mother Bertha died when he was only 3, so he spent a lot of time being raised or living with his sisters while his father was off on the dredge boat.  When he was 6 he attended first grade in Poplar Branch, NC.  2nd grade was done in Davis, NC.  3rd grade was done at Riverside in New Bern.  When I was about 12 or so, we went on a wild goose chase for a baseball card show to where we ended up in New Bern.  It was then that I learned of Granddaddy’s days living with Linwood & Louise.  He also told me of times swimming in the pickle vats with his buddies while sampling some of the inventory.  Years later, when I lived in New Bern, he told me that his first church talk was given in the home of Sis. Thomas, where the New Bern Saints met for Sunday School.  He then attended the rest of his pre-college education, grades 4 through 11 at Harkers Island.  He was baptized in Back Sound, in front of Earl and Big Sis’s house in June of 1939.  The summer just before he turned 11, he went to work with his father on the dredge boat as a cook’s assistant, with desires to learn the full dredge boat business.    Once he made it to the 9th grade he decided he’d had about enough school so he quit, and started working full time at the fish houses packing and hauling 100+ lbs wooden fish boxes.  Summers would be spent back on the dredge.  Around this time he also spent some time working for Clayton Fulcher, driving a truck.  He took the truck to Samuel Davis who painted “Miss Harkers Island” on the bumper of the truck.  When that truck returned to Atlantic, not too many Perlantic’ers were happy with the named truck.
In September 1945 a position became available to work at Cherry Point, however to do so it required a copy of his birth certificate.  After an exhaustive search in both Beaufort and New Bern courthouses, it was determined that he didn’t have one. So he started the process to get a delayed certificate.  He used this opportunity to confuse/convince Big Sis that he was actually born in 1928, and got Earl Davis and David Yeomans to sign the form.  Whether for that or for when in Feb 1946, when Jerry Lawrence suggested that they join the Coast Guard, from that point forward, to Uncle Sam, Richard was a year older.    They set out for Portsmouth, VA on a bus and met with the recruiters.  Following a successful boot camp, he enlisted for a 2 year period.  During this time he was stationed in Boston, Woods Hole Cape Cod, and aboard the light ship Cross Rip just off Martha’s Vineyard.  Later on in life he and Jerry were pleased to find out that because of the dates of their service they were considered World War II vets and had all the privileges of vets while actually being fortunate to never see armed conflict.  In his final years he got great joy out of his Veteran’s meetings and the friendships they provided.  Not to mention the occasional Hardees’ biscuit.  
In September 1948 he decided it was best for him to go back to school.  He enrolled back at Harkers Island in the 9th grade.  About mid-year he was moved up to the 10th grade because Mr. Gordon Hardesty said that he was doing so well academically that he could easily make the move, so he “done what they told me to, and moved up a grade.”  He graduated then as a part of the class of 1949.  These last few years he got paid $20/month to go to school and the school got paid for him being there.  After graduation he attended one year of school at Atlantic Christian, now Barton College, in Wilson.  It didn’t cost him a dime, as it was paid for by the Government.  Ruth and Bertha Gray helped him move into the dormitory.  He would thumb home to the Island almost every weekend, and back to school on Sunday.  As he put it, he passed a few classes, but failed most of them so he decided that he wouldn’t go back the next year.  Grandmamma said it was because he had his mind on girls.
He then decided that he wanted to be a State Trooper.  He applied for the program and took the test.  According to Gilda (Earl & Big Sis’s daughter) he only missed passing the test by one point.  Despite her urging to retake the test he just “didn’t want to mess with it again.  I think instead he got a job driving a truck for the State DOT.  There for a while also he worked for Maola, delivering milk.  There was also the famous Loon incident, where as he trained his gun on an unsuspecting bird he got a tap on his shoulder.  He responded, “Hold on let me get this one right here.”  He fired, hit the fowl, and turned around to see the Game Warden standing right beside him.  The warden responded, “Well I guess you can’t deny that one Mr. Lewis.”
In 1953 he decided to re-enlist in the Coast Guard.  He served time aboard the Cherokee, a Boilerman’s school in Philadelphia – graduating with honors, the Ingham, and finally the Absencon.  Most of this time he was based in Elizabeth City and there are a many “wild one” tales that can be told of him.  Such as the time he bought a brand new Ford, but only kept her for about 9 months.  Well during that time she only run on siphoned aviation fuel from Elizabeth City, which was carried around in 4-5 gallon drums in her trunk.  Or passing through a DUI check point with a cold one right in his lap, or being escorted to a motel in Little Washington by a trooper because he was in no shape to be driving.  Both times he never got a ticket, which he felt was part luck, and part the fact that he had on his uniform.  Every time he just knew he was going to jail.  Or the time that he and “Dickie-Boy” out ran a Trooper by going down east, but it took all the way to Cedar Island before they lost him.  Or how he would come home and go to Ella Dee’s and sneak in and wake up baby Jonathan to rock him, which made her the maddest.  In 1959 the Coast Guard put him on “temporary retirement” because of his bad heartburn.  As he put it, he could get heartburn from a popsicle.  This duty required him to visit the Camp Lejuene Hospital for testing and evaluation for 3 days every year.  After 4 years he was given a medical discharge.  About two years prior to that, unbeknownst to the Coast Guard, he started working at Cherry Point’s central heating.  A job which he enjoyed until his retirement in December 1987.  Many times he could be found riding around in a little Dodge or Ford Truck checking the steam pits and boilers across the base.
He met Ida Lourene Coats in 1954 down at Shell Point, and they dated for 5 years.  They were married in Beaufort on Nov. 12, 1959.  She and Al were a great step in his life.  In 1965 they bought the old Fred Lewis home from her uncle.  They sold their little home on Cape Lookout Drive to a man from West Virginia on practically the same day as Dick had put the sign in the yard.  That first winter in the Fred Lewis house was a cold one.  You could see the rugs flapping in the breeze when ever the wind blew.  In April of 1966 they moved into the newly built brick home you see today.  As I learned when I became a homeowner in 2005 his mortgage payment was $71/month for about 30 years.  There were outings with the Boy Scouts and youth that occurred over this time as he started to get active in the Church again.  One particular trip he recalled was in his “Chevy 2”, where he remembered Billy Jr.’s leg coming from the back seat, up his left side and almost to the dashboard.  On January 17, 1967, he made the decision that something had to change in his life, and he quit overnight smoking and drinking without no help from nobody as he often said.  From that point forward he was very active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  In 1971 he was ordained a High Priest.  Throughout his service in the Church he held many positions such as: Second Counselor to the Bishop, Ward Clerk, teacher of MIA, and Sunday school teacher.  He and Ida, were sealed in the Washington, DC Temple on Nov. 11, 1978.  At one point he figured up that he had been an assistant clerk for about 42 years.  During that time he had the honor of baptizing both of his grandchildren, and ordaining me to every priesthood office, except my last one.  As long as health permitted you would find him in his seat in the chapel well before services started, and actively participating in the Sunday School or priesthood lessons.
  He always said , "E was his eye and Sweets was his heart."  Many an afternoon you could find him playing horseback down the hall with both children on his back, or for that matter doing almost anything they desired.  To say that he spoiled us might be an understatement.  He also did his part to help teach the Gospel to them when they were young.  It was because of him and the other examples in the ward I had that I served a mission.  Not many chances passed that he would say, “Erik, when you serve a mission…” Not if, but when.  Many years later the great-grandchildren started arriving---Amelia, Charlotte and then Clark; Avery, Taylor, Roxy, and Rage.  He may have been past the horseback riding days at this point, but that didn’t mean he didn’t try to show his love in other ways. He and Taylor shared a love of circus peanut candies. He was an excellent provider for his immediate family and the many nieces and nephews and their families.  Ice cream was a favorite item to deliver!  He also shared his love of boats and the water.  Whether it was trips out on the Uncle Ida, Erik & Allison, E & Sweets, or his shoal runner, it didn’t take much to get him out in a boat especially when it involved going fishing.  Or other times stopping by Hessie’s around 3:00 to get some fresh light bread rolls as she took them out of the oven.  He could often be found sitting down at EB’s sipping on a nice ice cold diet 7-up, sharing stories with Snowball, Perry, and Roscoe.  Or sitting down at Shell Point watching the Cape light, eating a hot dog or some other delicious treat.  He and his buddies spent a “little while” driving around the Island or running errands to Cherry Point or Beaufort.  I know that Uncle Dick was loved by, and will be missed by many a heart.  And if you don’t believe me just ask Vesper.
He is survived by his wife, Ida; son, Al; two grandchildren, Erik A. Lewis and wife Elizabeth and Allison L. Struyk and husband Russell; five great-grandchildren, Amelia Lewis, Charlotte Lewis, Clark Lewis, Brandon Struyk and Avery Struyk; former daughter-in-law, Virginia Piner; also many nieces and nephews; and a great legacy of faith, testimony, service, and love.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Capt. Dick and Bertha Willis Lewis, sisters, Ella Dee, Lucele, Lillian Davis, Bertha Grey Willis, Helen Lewis, Margarette Hancock, Louise Hancock, Rosa Lea Davis, Ruth Varrone and a half-brother, Bill Quidley.

2 Validations:

Mom Erwin said...

Erik, thank you so much for letting us hear about and read the talk you gave at your Grandfather's funeral. He was a great man as are you and we have so many pleasant memories of both of you. Give your wife and children a hug from old friends in Utah! Hugh and Verna Erwin

Catherine said...

You did such a great job on this, Erik! I am so honored to have known Granddaddy for the time that you and Elizabeth have been married. I will never forget both his and Grandmama's kindness letting me tag along the first Christmas I was divorced. And how thrilled he was when he first found out about Clarkie's middle name in the hospital.