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Hundreds brave merciless heat to pay last sad tribute to a great man

By Desmond Allen
Executive Editor - Special Assignment
allend@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, July 31, 2017

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A packed Hope United Church and the overflow tent at 221 Old Hope Road, St Andrew, said all that was necessary about how Dr Lascelles Sewell Lewis had touched the lives of innumerable Jamaicans.

They turned out on the morning of July 22, 2017, braving broiling sun, sweating and fanning furiously against the merciless heat, but steadfast and focused, using music and dance in paying a last sad tribute to the former chairman of the Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL) and outstanding community man.

Dr Lewis passed away on July 8, 2017 in his 87th year. Illness in his last days had slowed the previously tireless man, who was eulogised by lifelong friend Fred Hudson as one who had “lived a full life of love, compassion, thoughtfulness and kindness for his family, friends and fellowman, if anything, almost selfless to a fault”.

As Hudson told it, Dr Lewis was born in Baillieston, Clarendon on December 1, 1930. He attended the elementary school in that area and later graduated from the Mico Teacher Training College, now the Mico University College.

“He met and married the beautiful Essene Almena Rhoden in April 1959, and the union of undying love produced two lovely children, Terry and Norman, and five grandchildren: Nathaniel, Nikolai, Nicole, Leanne and Brianne. His wife predeceased him a few years before.

“He was a loving and responsible father and grandfather and the perfect husband. Las treasured the deep relationship and love that he shared with his in-laws, the Rhoden Family,” Hudson said. At various times he was employed to the Social Development Commission with prime responsibility for literacy and the National Volunteer Organisation; appointed chairman of the JAMAL, which later became the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL), and president of the Jamaica Council for Adult Education (JACAE).

“He was the inspiration behind the successful implementation of the accredited Master's Degree Programme for Adult Education, the first such programme to be introduced in Jamaica. That was a major milestone of the joint efforts of JACAE and Mount St Vincent University of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

So successful was the programme that he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate (LLD) in Adult Education by the University. If Las had his way he would have established a university for lifelong learning,” Hudson suggested.

The Caribbean Council for Adult Education was also formed under his leadership. He also worked as human resources manager at the now defunct Workers Bank, and later as vice-president and head of human resources at the Henderson Group of Companies. He was in charge of the construction of the group's head office on Ripon Road, now the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) head office. That project as completed on time and within budget, a rarity in those days.

Dr Lewis served was chairman of various boards of directors of major well known private and public sector institutions, among them were Bloomfield Jamaica Limited and Medallion Hall Hotel Limited, as well as the Mona Preparatory School which for many years, experienced tremendous growth during his tenure.

He was a Kiwanian of the Year, a Kiwanis Life Member, a 40-year Legion of Honour Member, and a Distinguished President of the Kiwanis Club of North St Andrew, going on to become one of the most respected and loved Distinguished Lieutenant Governors of Excellence (DLGE) in the Kiwanis Movement.

Hudson said Dr Lewis was the first chairman of the Past President's Committee of the Kiwanis Club of North St Andrew, which was established during the 1988-89 administrative year. Hence, he was the first formally appointed advisor to the president of the club. During that period the club was awarded four (4) consecutive governor's ribbons, a feat never before achieved in the history of the movement worldwide and which is yet to be repeated.

It was also during that period that the Mico Youth Counselling Resource & Development Centre was started, and which, to date, is one of the most outstanding projects undertaken by any Kiwanis Club worldwide.

“During the subsequent administrative year 1989-90, the project was recognised by Kiwanis International as the first-placed project in the Diamond Category of Kiwanis International. The project further went on to repeat that excellent performance through a special youth programme about three years later.”

He held membership in the Lodge Liguanea (His Mother Lodge) and Lodge Stony Hill where, as a founding member and past master, he left a rich legacy. He was the third master of Lodge Stony Hill, and through his distinguished leadership and the teaching of the principles of Freemasonry, he played a significant role in establishing that lodge at the forefront of Freemasonry in Jamaica. He was a chairman of the Men Who Care Committee and Honorary Grand Junior Warden of the Grand District Lodge of Jamaica.

A great lover of classical music, he introduced the playing of recorded music at the Lodge's Festive Board. He also loved fine poetry and often referred to the inspiring poems of the “Lake Boys”. A devout Christian and a member of the Mona United Church, he was often referred to as “Mr Fund-raiser”. Members also referred to his contributions to character development, and providing solace and comfort to those in need of encouragement and support through his exemplary conduct and wise counselling.

For his many outstanding contributions to Jamaica's development, he was invested with the National Honour of the Order of Distinction, Officer Class (OD), by the Jamaican Government.

“To me personally, Las has been my mentor, my brother and a friend I could turn to in times of joy as well as sorrow,” said Hudson, a justice of the peace.

Dr Lewis's granddaughters Nicole and Leanne Hall, members of the Company Dance Theatre, paid tribute in dance. Musical tributes came from saxophonist Dean Fraser; Dwight Richards; DiMario McDowell, and Shawna-Lee Brown.

The Hope United Church Choir, headboy of the Mona Prep, Maurice Henry, Winsome Levy, and Bernice Hudson also participated in the service. Officiating ministers were Rev Dr Margaret Fowler, Rev Astor Carlyle and Rev Norbert Stephens.


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