Monday, March 09, 2009

Remembering: Grambling's David Lewis

In memory: David Lewis made a personal impact at Grambling
June 20, 2008

By Nick Deriso
For me, next season's Grambling home football opener -- no matter the outcome -- will be a somber experience.

Absent from the Robinson Stadium pressbox will be David Lee Lewis, who died last week and was honored during a memorial on Thursday morning in Ruston.

A criminal justice professor at GSU for two decades before retiring a few years back, Lewis was one of those quietly important contributors, even if few outside of his classroom or "The Rob" ever knew it.

And, I'm honored to say, he was my friend.

Lewis was remembered during those emotional services as a mentor to scores of criminal justice majors, emerging leaders-in-the-making who went out into the world to make it a better place. And as a force behind countless community efforts, including those to erect a museum in honor of Grambling's late football coaching legend, Eddie Robinson.

Lewis was a tireless volunteer, a deeply committed soldier, for Grambling, for Lincoln Parish, for America. His so-called "retirement" never lessened that passion.

He was also, as a longtime scoreboard operator at GSU, a guy I knew as a student of the game who scouted pro football referees. He could expertly spot the ball on an inside running play with one eye -- even while still focusing on the pressbox vittles with the other.

Generous and sharp, David Lewis was a steady presence, the voice of reason, but also a deeply humorous guy. He once correctly predicted, within 20 people, the abysmal attendance at a meaningless out-of-conference game -- and I still owe him some money on that.

In fact, I never covered a GSU game at Robinson Stadium without Lewis at the scoreboard, and we never missed an opportunity to trade barbs, stories and quips. He bested me every time.

Still, while he could see the intrinsic humor in life, David Lewis was never a frivilous person. His standards were high, sometimes impossibly so. Lewis had a sharp focus, and a serious one, on leaving this place better than he found it, and for honoring those who did what was right.

He was instrumental, for instance, in helping to secure the former women's gymnasium as the future home for exhibits in memory of Robinson. Countless students, friends and family members spoke on Thursday of similar efforts in their own lives, gestures often made away from public notice.

Mr. Lewis' commitment to service and pride in citizenship touched students and family alike. His son Bobby -- one of five children he often lovingly mentioned -- was serving in the war on terror when he heard of Lewis' passing.

The list of boards and associations he had served on was read aloud during Lewis' funeral, and it took a remarkable amount of time. But Lewis, known to those closest to him as "Big Daddy," always had a moment for his children, for his grandchildren, for his students, for his school.

He coordinated local youth activities, sent out notes and cards on special occasions, and worked diligently to promote and protect community programs -- touching hundreds of young people's lives. And that was on top of a 20-year tenure as a professor and then the criminal justice department's undergraduate program director at GSU.

It seemed fitting that Dr. Ruby Higgins, a former GSU administrative official and dear friend of Lewis', would suggest on Thursday that an endowed scholarship be established in his honor. Lewis, though he never made the cover of Sports Illustrated, wove himself into the very fabric of Grambling.

The dizzying achievements of Robinson, former basketball coach and athletics director Fred Hobdy or second school president R.W.E. Jones have been, at least more recently, well documented in publications like that.

But it takes an every-day attention to detail by a cast of thousands to stitch together a legacy like Grambling's. There are others who made smaller contributions that were, if not as widely recognized, just as important on a personal level.

Mr. Lewis was one of those people. He'll be missed.