Attorney Michael J. Lewis Jr., formerly of Park Place, Kingston, died peacefully at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Plains Township, on Wednesday, June 12, 2013, in a room overlooking his beloved Wyoming Valley. He was 80.
Mr. Lewis was the son of the late Michael J. Lewis Sr. and Mary "Grace" (Dugan) Lewis. He graduated in 1950 from Kingston High School, where he was nicknamed "Miguel" for his mastery of the Spanish language. He enrolled at Wilkes College, studying political science.
During his first year at Wilkes, Mr. Lewis led a student revolt against the custom of hazing, which received national press recognition. Upperclassmen were permitted to pounce on freshmen, smear their faces with lipstick, force them to wear beanies ("dinks"), light their cigarettes and sing the alma mater on command. Mr. Lewis negotiated a truce which culminated in a tug of war between the classes to settle the dispute. The freshmen won, and hazing was suspended.
Mr. Lewis lettered in soccer at Wilkes and was often seen dribbling a soccer ball along the dikes of the Susquehanna to Kirby Park. A proficient tennis and racquetball player, he was a longtime member of the Northampton Street YMCA where he broke its gender barrier by bringing his daughter to play racquetball.
Following his graduation with honors in 1954, he attended Officers Candidate School. For the next two years, he was on active duty in the U.S. Navy
, serving as communications officer of the USS Ross (DD 563). He saw extensive sea duty in the Mediterranean, Near East, and Caribbean. Called back to active duty during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he remained in the Naval Reserve until 1965, serving as commander of the Kingston Recruiting Center. A favorite city was Beirut, which he often said deserved its appellation of the "Paris of the East."
In 1957, Mr. Lewis married Joan Zawoiski of Pringle, just as he began to study law. He attended Columbia Law School, graduating in 1960. After living in Philadelphia for several years, he returned in 1968 to the Wyoming Valley, where he established a private law practice and a political career.
Mr. Lewis was later appointed to the Pennsylvania State Attorney General's office, where he oversaw the awarding of pensions to coal miners stricken with black lung disease. Inspired by the example of his own father, a blacksmith at the Woodward Colliery in Edwardsville, he worked energetically on behalf of miners, supported by the late Congressman Daniel J. Flood.
Mr. Lewis was an intrepid traveler who, following his early retirement, lived abroad for many years in Mexico, England and Wales. A correspondent of boundless energy, he wrote witty and pungent observations about life overseas, social mores and the political scene. He preferred to type his letters on his venerable Royal manual typewriter, which he said was as timelessly beautiful as a 1946 Cadillac.
Mr. Lewis was renowned for his intelligence and eloquent oratory, which showed his study of French, Spanish and Latin. His phosphorescent conversation was at its best at the family homestead on Park Place, where his children and their friends were encouraged to converse as equals with visiting professionals.
Mr. Lewis was an omnivorous reader, whose interests ranged from history and theology to the novels of Herman Wouk. He had a deep love of the Susquehanna River, and he regarded the drive to Tunkhannock as the most beautiful scenery in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Lewis is survived by his five children, Michael J. Lewis III (Susan Glassman), Williamstown, Mass./Philadelphia; Judith Ann Lewis (Timothy Cheney), Glenside; attorney Jacqueline Lewis, Philadelphia; attorney Jane Lamb (Peter), Philadelphia; and Jocelyn Lewis (Scott Paulson), Charlottesville, Va.; and six grandchildren, Katherine Cheney, Colin Cheney, Nora Cheney, Leo Coltrane Kivell, Owen Michael Paulson and Amy Elizabeth Paulson.
He was predeceased by his wife, Joan Lewis, in 2011, whose own battle with pancreatic cancer inspired good deeds around the world in honor of "Joannie from Pringle" and was covered extensively in these pages.
A phrase in one of Mr. Lewis's letters might serve as his own epitaph: "The main reason that I demand the immortality of the soul is the utter depravity of not being able to see how the story ends."
The Lewis family especially recognizes the exemplary care of the VA staff, who cared for Mr. Lewis as though he were their own.
A celebration of Michael's life will be held at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at McLaughlin's — The Family Funeral Service, 142 S. Washington St., Wilkes-Barre, followed by a Funeral Mass at 9:30 a.m. in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, Kingston.
Interment will be in St. Mary's Cemetery, Hanover Township.
Visitation will be held at McLaughlin's from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday.
The family invites donations to any charity which embodies Lewis's lifelong affinity for the underdog.
Permanent messages and memories may be shared with Michael's family at www.celebratehislife.com