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Legacy of Leadership: Honoring Joe Lewis

My dad, Joe Lewis, passed away on February 2nd of this year following a short illness. He was 96 and lived a full life until the very end.

I am proud to have the privilege of running the company that his father before him created and that he ran with his brothers. From the time I was very young, I knew I wanted to work with my dad. It was funny because at that time I didn’t even know what he did! I remember when I got old enough, around 5 or 6 years old, he would take me to work on Saturdays. I’d ride around on the pallet jacks like they were scooters. Then we’d get lunch at Bills BBQ and have either a limeade or a coke -- in a glass bottle from the drink machine.

Honoring a pillar of the family.

From my teen years through high school, I worked in the bindery – that’s where the pages we printed got folded, stapled or glued or sewn together, to make a book or magazine or pamphlet. At some point, I told my dad that I wanted to keep working and didn’t want to go to college. In his typical, understated fashion, he listened and nodded and said, “I understand that, but how about going for at least a year to see how it goes?” So, off I went to Chowan to study printing and then finished at VCU with a degree in accounting. I still worked weekends and after school and then started full time with the company after graduation.

I learned a lot from my dad in those years as a company employee. In 1989, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to buy the company with two cousins and take over as President. I continued to work with my dad – only now he was my employee -- probably the best employee I ever had. He retired at 65 and stepped away from the business entirely. He was always there if I needed him but only if I asked him – he let me run what was his company and never looked back. He was always supportive, loved coming by to see what new things were happening and continued to give me that sage, understated advice that was so powerful.

I am proud to run the company today and to have extended his legacy to Eudora, Kansas, with two of my sons, Josh and Sam. I’d love to pass the business on to them as he did for me.

Mom and Dad had six kids and worked hard to provide for us. I think they had big plans after his retirement -- things they’d been unable to do with six children in the house. Unfortunately, soon after Dad’s retirement, Mom became ill with COPD and passed away in 2000. I cannot imagine the loss Dad felt, but he never missed a beat. He stayed active, engaged and busy. A devout Catholic, he continued to play a strong role in his church – attending mass and meeting friends. He had his favored hobby -- wood working – which he did for many years, he even had an unfinished project when he passed. He made beautiful and intricate frames and boxes that he shared with family. He also had family events -- regular weekly dinners with his in-town kids, monthly “Sibling Dinners” where all of us gathered, family stews, birthdays, weddings, graduations… He always had a packed social calendar! You didn’t get time with Dad on short notice – he was too much in demand.

joe-and-chris

He came to dinner every Tuesday with me for years. We’d play cribbage, drink bourbon, and talk politics and family – we might have exchanged some competitive kibitzing and I might have kidded him in the later years when he missed some points. As with many things in the Lewis family, at some point we decided that the cribbage game could be better, so we created a variation with an extra crib to score more points. Boy he loved it when he beat me!

At the time of his passing, he had five children (having lost Don, my oldest brother, to cancer in 2020). He had 17 grandchildren and 26 great grandchildren. He knew them, spent time with them and they loved him! We are lucky in our family to have a treasure box of “four generation photos” with my Dad from the annual Brunswick stew, the family beach weeks, birthday parties, weddings and celebrations of all kinds! He loved us, his grandchildren and his great grandchildren. He always had a ready smile, a story to share, time for a book or game, a laugh that came quickly and the patience of a saint!

We will all miss him terribly. He leaves a legacy behind that will endure long after his passing.

Chris Lewis | President, CEO

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