This column is adapted from remarks given at the funeral of Dr. Edward L. Lewis in the First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro, GA, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019.
My cousin Edward Lewis was my hero growing up in Greensboro, GA. We all wanted to hang around with him, because he generated fun. He organized a war once, in the old one-room shack out behind our house that we called the Brown House. We had a big cedar tree that dropped lots of those little, blue, oblong berries. We all had BB guns, and if you emptied out all the BBs and dropped a cedar berry down the barrel, it made a dandy, non-lethal projectile that stung your adversary—kind of a throwback to the old muzzle-loaders.
Ed divided us into two armies—one inside the Brown House and one outside. Those of us on the inside had to keep those on the outside from getting in. It was great fun until Ed fired a shot that hit Buck Bryan in the eye and put an end to the battle. The doctors said an eighth of an inch over, and Buck would have lost his sight in that eye.
I don’t know where my mamma was that day, though she did later catch some of us smoking in the Brown House, but not Ed. He had gone on to high school football, and without him, we fell into bad habits.
While he was around, though, he was inventive. He demonstrated early on his ability to build things. From someplace, maybe from old roller skates, we got some skate wheels, and under Ed’s guidance we constructed some flatbed racers, made out of three or four planks nailed to axles, to which the wheels were attached, with a rope for steering.
As I recall that particular fun, Ed was the race director. He positioned younger sister Kay on her racer and the rest of us on ours up at the top of the water tower hill on South Street above the Lewis residence, while he took his station down at the Walnut Street intersection. When the coast was clear, he gave us the signal, and we started down the hill, gaining speed. The racers had no brakes, and the only way to stop them was to run them into the curb, which resulted in splinters where the drivers sat. Needless to say, we were anxious to make the turn onto Walnut, and when we did, we had the sharp drop down toward Broad Street, i.e., Federal Highway 278, the main road through Greensboro, where we had to execute a sharp merge, steering as close to the edge as we could. I don’t know where Miss Kathleen was at this time, or she surely would have curtailed that fun.
Well, those are long ago memories, and everybody who grew up with Ed has many like them. Here’s one more, just to emphasize his inventive turn of mind. We were camping out in the cabin at the pond, and among our provisions was a can of sardines. We broke the key that opened the can and had no can opener. We did have a .22 rifle, and Ed deduced that if we fired the rifle with perfect aim down the side of the can that it would shoot it open. We did, and it did, and we enjoyed the sardines, with a minimum of metal shards.
I finally caught up with Ed in high school when he was a senior and I was a freshman. I got to watch firsthand while he quarterbacked the football team, captained the basketball team and won the state championship in the 440-yard dash in track. Not to mention that he made straight A’s, led the debate team, starred in the literary meet’s one-act play and somehow, in spite of his accomplishments, was one of the most popular guys in his class, and one of the best dancers.
Following in Ed’s footsteps was a lot harder than it looked. It wasn’t easy being Ed; he just made it look that way through a lot of hard work. That’s the way he approached everything. He made himself into a star athlete and an outstanding student. He drove himself. He did what needed to be done.
After high school, Ed accelerated. He went on to Davidson and thence to Duke Medical School and to the University of Virginia and back to Duke for a residency and finally to Athens. Ed’s patients knew he was special. They knew they were special under his care, that he was treating them, not just their ailments. They may have sensed that their garrulous doctor, kidding them and prodding them, was treating their warts and cancers and acne with the same focused determination that always drove him to excellence—toward the basket, the end zone, the finish line.
No matter how far away life took him, he was a Greene County original, and thanks to his fortuitous alliance with Beth, he was able to return and make his life here again on his native soil.
Ed is still an inspiration to us all, as we face our own challenges and obstacles. Even after he was confined to a wheelchair, his hustle, his optimism, his exuberance, his perseverance remind us not to give up, to “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.”
There could only be one Ed Lewis, but we are all better because of his example, and, after all, that’s why we have heroes.