Public servant Jim Lewis died this week
Jim Lewis [© David Gibb Photography]
Jim Lewis [© David Gibb Photography]
Jim Lewis, longtime Jacksonville City Council member, former mayor and chairman of the Rogue Valley Council of Government Jim Lewis, died Aug. 8, ending a nearly four-decade run of public service, leaving behind countless members of the community who remember a consummate gentleman and a kind and devoted leader. .
Lewis left this world looking like the beloved public servant and former mayor that people always knew, said Gayle Lewis, his wife of 51 years. Lewis, 77, suffered a catastrophic event on Monday morning, but did not suffer.
“He was in his routine. The TV was on and I was asleep. He was dressed and looking good, as he did at all his council meetings. He was immaculately groomed, ready for the day,” she said.
“He hadn’t gone anywhere, but he was his usual self with a recent haircut. He had shaved that morning. He would always shave for his Zoom meetings. He died on his feet. I was thankful that he was a quick death and may he not suffer.”
Gayle Lewis, a retired nurse, said her husband had been struggling with poor health in recent years, slowing down and with limited mobility.
“Even so, he was preparing to present himself again to the City Council. I was very worried because his health was failing and I knew we didn’t have much time. I think he knew that too,” she said.
“His mind was fine, but his body was just worn out. He never complained, he just carried on.”
Lewis said much of the week was filled with calls, emails and texts from those she shared her husband with for much of the past half-century.
Michael Cavallaro, former director of RVCOG, counted Lewis as a friend and colleague.
“I worked with Jim for the 23 years that I was director, and he was a wonderful human being. It’s easy to be jaded when you’re in government, especially when you’re around the political side of things,” Cavallaro said.
“Through the years, there always seemed to be a couple of people who could pull me back from the brink; and Jim was the first of them. He was kind, considerate, non-judgmental, just a solidly decent human being, and that was completely refreshing and revitalizing.
Mike Montero, president of the Rogue Valley Area Commission on Transportation, said Lewis will be greatly missed.
“When RVACT was founded in 1997, Jim was one of the originals. He has served faithfully ever since. Jim never came to meetings with an agenda, but when he had something to contribute, it was always worth listening to.” , Montero said.
Montero said Lewis put “a lot of heart” into everything he did for the community and was always on the lookout for ways he could help.
Born May 8, 1945, in Wray, Colorado, to Frederick W. and Dixie Brown, James Windfield Lewis attended a dozen schools before graduating from high school at St. Louis. He became an English teacher after graduating from William and Mary College with an English degree in 1967, then followed in his father’s footsteps at the Naval Officer Candidate School.
Not long into flight training school in Pensacola, Florida, Lewis changed his course once again, explaining to the Jacksonville Review in 2019, “Honestly, flying was too scary for me, and soon I realized that I would never feel comfortable in the cockpit.”.
Lewis went to Vietnam to support the US Army’s 9th Infantry, serving as a damage control assistant and as an engineer assistant. In July 1969, he met his wife when his ship was sent to Guam to be decommissioned. The couple married on March 20, 1971.
Using the GI Bill, Lewis entered William and Mary Law School in the fall of 1971, graduating in 1974. The couple moved to Gayle Lewis’ hometown of Jacksonville in the early 1980s.
An early “stay-at-home dad,” Lewis immersed himself in public service and raising his daughter, Claire. His public service career began in 1983 when he was appointed to the Jacksonville Budget Committee and the Historic and Architectural Review Commission. In 1986, he was appointed to a vacancy on the Jacksonville City Council, where he remained, except for brief stints, until his death this week. He served as mayor between 1994 and 2008.
Lewis told the Jacksonville paper that his time on the council was “virtually hassle-free and enjoyable” thanks to a “top-notch staff.”
“One of his few breaks was from 2008 to 2010, and it was very hard for him to be away from the council and not as involved. Rogue Valley Sewer Services bailed him out because they had a board opening, so he still was able to serve,” Gayle Lewis said.
In addition to decades on the City Council and 25 years on the RVCOG board, Lewis served as a member of the Regional 911 Board, the Rogue Valley Sewer Services Board, the League of Oregon Cities and was past president of the Oregon Mayor’s Association.
Gayle Lewis said her husband loved the sense of order, but even more, he loved the community.
“Jim was a master at running meetings, and he was very organized and productive. He always said, ‘Don’t waste people’s time with a meeting that’s out of control,'” he recalled.
“He loved the people he served with and was very attached to the town hall and anyone who ran the COG. He was just a wonderful man.”
She added: “I really have to wonder, how many thousands of hours did he serve and never want anything for it?”
Lewis is survived by his wife, Gayle Offenbacher Lewis; daughter, Claire Godward Lewis (Portland); a brother, Stephen K. Lewis; sister-in-law, Savannah Lewis; half-sisters Luanna Nicks and Margaret Ferguson (Yorktown, Virginia). He was preceded in death by parents Frederick W. and Dixie Brown Lewis, and brother Barry Morris.
Contact Mail Tribune reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.