GASTONIA - John Kelly "Buddy" Lewis Jr., 94, of Gastonia, passed away Feb. 18, 2011, at his residence after a lengthy battle with cancer.
A life long resident of Gastonia, Buddy will be remembered as a truly special person with the highest standard of integrity and propriety.
He balanced his quiet manner with an ever-present sense of humor and wit.
Buddy was born Aug. 10, 1916, in Gaston County, the son of the late John Kelly Lewis and Ada May Jenkins Lewis. He was predeceased by five sisters and two brothers.
Lewis, an avid sports enthusiast, began his baseball career as a young boy. He thrilled local baseball fans with his outstanding play for American Legion Post #23 from 1929-1933. He played on the North Carolina State All Star Team in 1931 and 1932 and helped lead his team to the 1933 state championship.
After high school, Buddy was recruited by Wake Forest University to play baseball, but after one year he signed a pro contract. He made the Washington Senators roster in 1935 as the third baseman. Four years later, he was moved to right field. He spent his entire 14-year major league career with the Senators, twice being selected for the American League All Star Team.
In 1942, he enlisted in the United States Air Corps, Lewis flew more than 342 missions to the South Pacific fronts of World War II where he delivered supplies and transported the wounded over the Himalayan Mountains between India, Burma and China. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1945, he was discharged as a captain and was back at Griffith Stadium in less than 10 days. He quickly regained his batting form, and the outfield for the 1947 American League All Star Game was Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Buddy Lewis.
Lewis retired from baseball in 1949, moved back to Gastonia and bought the Ford dealership which he successfully ran for 35 years.
American Legion baseball was always dear to his heart. He served as a player, coach, athletic officer and an area commissioner. He and Crash Davis led Post 23 to win the 1954 state and regional championships and was only defeated in the Legion World Series.
Buddy was honored by his induction into the inaugural class of the North Carolina American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967, the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame. In 2003, the city of Gastonia named the baseball field at Sims Legion Park the John K. "Buddy" Lewis Jr. Field.
Active in his community, Lewis was a member of First AR Presbyterian Church where he served as a deacon and elder. He was a charter member of the Gastonia Optimist Club, served as co-chairman of the Hospital Committee to build the new hospital, served as president of the Heart Association, was the recipient of the 1965 Civitan Citizenship Award, was awarded the Paul Harris fellow by the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International and was a member of the Gaston Country Club.
Buddy is survived by his loving and devoted wife of 59 years, Frances Oates Lewis; two daughters, Kelly Lewis Burrell and her husband Jeffrey Burrell and Carol Lee Lewis; son, John Michael Lewis; grandchildren, Jordan, Parker and Rollins Burrell; Ashley and Kelly Brown and Stephanie and Jerry Lin-gerfelt; great-granddaughter, Apryl Brown; stepgreat-granddaughter, Baleigh Rowland; sister-in-law, Dorothy Herlong and her husband Dan; nieces and nephews, Billy and Bob Morris, Catherine Rhyne, Judy Rinn, Lewis Robinson, Jerrie Thompson, Bobbie and Ken Beam, Danny Herlong, Callie Mason, Bill and Vicky Oates, Johnny and Norma Oates, and Tookie and Joyce Oates.
The family is deeply grateful to his loving caregivers and staff of Hospice for their outstanding care of Mr. Lewis.
The family will receive friends from 1 until 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 21, 2011, prior to the celebration of life service at First AR Presbyterian Church.
A service to celebrate the life of Mr. Lewis will be held at 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 21, 2011, at First AR Presbyterian Church, 317 S. Chester St., Gastonia with Pastor Eddie Spencer officiating.
In lieu of flowers, the family request memorials be made to First AR Presbyterian Church, 317 S. Chester St,. Gastonia, NC 28052, Gaston Hospice P.O. Box 3984, Gastonia, NC 28053 or Crisis Assistance Ministry, 805 W. Airline Ave,. Gastonia, NC 28052.
Condolences may be sent to www.mcleanfuneral.com.
McLean Funeral Directors of Gastonia is serving the Lewis family.
Published by Gaston Gazette on Feb. 19, 2011.