Margaret Lewis reflects on 102 years of living. Faith, Family and Pride in America are Key Foundations
By Staff Report- Butler County Connect
Hamilton resident Margaret Lewis has lived a life rooted in faith, family, and pride in America. She was born during World War I. She has lived through The Great Depression and World War II. She’s survived a major earthquake in Alaska, a heart surgery, and the loss of her beloved husband, Herbert “Lew” Lewis. Now she’s navigating the challenges of what it’s like to live during the time of a pandemic.
At age 102, Lewis said there are three main things she’s learned in more than 100 years of living – God, nation, and family are the three foundations of our nation.
“First, God is sovereign. The successful life of businesses or of nations works more perfectly under his rules” she said.
“Secondly, America was founded by Christians and that is why, under The Constitution, we claim freedom that no other nation in the world can claim,” Lewis stressed. “The third point that I wanted to make is the family is the basis of good living. A stable family, a father and a mother, rearing educated, God-fearing offspring are the best basis for the good life,” she said.
She believes in America and its way of doing things. Lewis describes herself as a
“very patriotic person” and she is a member of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Lewis said she is thankful to be living in the United States, and she practices preserving it.
Growing up, her parents instilled lasting, lifelong values, such as the importance of faith, dedication, and hard work. Lewis had a twin brother, Hazlett, and she was one of five children. She was born in a tiny town in North Carolina. Her father’s family had lived there since before the Revolutionary War. Her mother’s family was from Pennsylvania. She will turn 103 on December 17. Living through different eras has also brought about many life lessons.
“The Great Depression hit my family as the 1930’s came about. We learned quickly and well that the easy life prior to that, of our dad bringing in a good income, and totally dedicating it to the welfare and good life of his wife and children could be altered. We found out very suddenly when the Depression hit that there was two ways of life – a good life and the life where you did without some things, and we learned that very quickly. We missed the niceties of life, and around us, we could see others who were less fortunate than we were, and thus, we learned a hard lesson,” Lewis said.
The lesson she learned from the Depression was that “All of the good things in life didn’t come free. They didn’t come in the front door when your daddy came home from work. They came from hard work and dedication.”
Lewis said one of the biggest lessons she learned from The Great Depression was that joy can be found in simple, basic living with family and friends.
“We learned we could do without a lot of things that we thought we had to have,” she said.
Not long after The Great Depression, Lewis and her family survived World War II. Her parents were concerned because they had two sons who were eligible for the draft. Her family bought bonds with every extra penny they had, so they could support the war efforts. One of her brothers went into the Air Force and came home safely. Her other brother was drafted into the transport industry as a railroad engineer. He helped to transport troops from one place to another.
“We began to be rationed as things were curtailed, on things like food and gasoline. They invented nylon (hosiery) about the time I was 25, and they even rationed those. You couldn’t even find stockings for a while,” Lewis said. “…Our family was affected, but we were blessed that we did not lose a son or a brother.”
A lesson she learned from World War II is that it’s devastating, has great sorrow and hardships.
“It’s never worth the cost. No war is ever worth the cost, and it should be eliminated by common sense from the human experience,” Lewis said.
Another highlight for Lewis was that she, her sisters, and girlfriends served as hostesses at least once a week at the USO Club in their hometown. They played piano, sang songs, and worked at the refreshment bar, serving ice cream sundaes. The USO Club in Goldsboro entertained troops from a large, nearby Air Force Base. Some of her friends met the men they eventually married there. She met “Lew” at church, and he also spent time at the USO Club.
“We were invited to go to the USO and do things like play the piano, or sing. It was a fun thing to do and I enjoyed every bit of it,” Lewis said.
She and her husband, “Lew”, a Captain in the United States Navy Chaplain Corps, have traveled the world, and lived in places like Sicily, Naples, Italy, and parts of Europe. They lived in Kodiak, Alaska for two-and-a-half years and served in at least a dozen other stations from Maine to Florida.
“We loved every second of it. We had a wonderful life together. We have three sons and four grandchildren. I’ve had a very rewarding life,” Lewis said.
Lewis enjoyed a career in radio and news at stations including WGBR, WOPI and WCYB. She began as a copywriter at a local radio station in a small town in North Carolina, doing everything from A to Z. She wrote copy for commercials, created jingles, and occasionally filled in for the bookkeeper. She also hosted various programs and did the news for a period time. In another facet of her career, she served as the women’s editor of a local newspaper in Goldsboro, North Carolina, The Goldsboro News Argus. Some of her feature stories were also picked up by other prominent publications.
Lewis had artistic talents like playing piano and singing. She worked closely with Andy Griffith for several years in local musical and drama productions in North Carolina before he became famous.
“It was the most fascinating and interesting career,” she said. “In my radio career, I met such people as Tony Martin, Andy Griffith, and Donald O’Connor.”
In 1943, Mr. Lewis joined the Marine Corps and served the United States in World War II and the Korean War receiving the Certificate of Commendation. Lewis and her husband were married in 1952. She left Goldsboro with her husband so he could attend college and seminary. He graduated from King College in Bristol, Tennessee in 1956 and Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia in 1958. He was ordained as a Presbyterian Minister, serving churches in Eastern North Carolina.
In 1962, Mr. Lewis joined the Navy Chaplain Corps and throughout his career, he rose to the rank of Captain. During his 25 years in the Navy, he served tours across the country and in Europe from Alaska to Maine, Rhode Island to Okinawa, Virginia, Charleston, Sicily and Naples, Italy.
Lewis is in excellent health, but she has lived through more crises than most people. She was born in 1917, during World War I. A couple of years ago, she had heart surgery and it took more than a year for her to recover. At 98 or 99, she made up her own mind to quit driving. In September of 2018, she lost her husband, the love of her life, and they had been married for 68 years.
“The biggest thing that I’ve had to cope with recently was the death of my husband. He was ill almost a year before he died…That’s a gap in your life that you can’t fill with anything else,” said Lewis.
Lewis said her faith has carried her through, knowing that her husband is with the Lord, and God continues to take care of her.
“God is my greatest help,” she said, “But, adjusting to the loss and the gap in your life that comes from losing somebody (is hard). I had been married to him for 68 years, and that’s a big gap, when that emptiness comes, but I’m adjusting to it.”
With the pandemic, Lewis said she’s become accustomed to standing at 6-ft. away to say “hi” to family, and she’s even done the elbow bump a time or two with her children and grandchildren instead of giving them hugs. Because of her advanced age, she’s been extremely careful during the pandemic.
Lewis has three children – Mark, John (Heather) and Bryan (Marisa) and four grandchildren – Taylor, Madison, Jackson, and Isabel. She has family members close by and family members who are attentive from a distance. Her son, John is a minister at The Presbyterian Church in Hamilton.
“The family unit is very important, and we are losing that in this country. We’re realizing that there are so many fatherless families, and there are so many single mothers. It’s terribly hard. I can’t imagine rearing children by myself because I didn’t have to do it, of course, but I can see that it would be a difficult task. I sympathize and empathize with every single mother or father. I wish for them the happiness of a stable marriage where both of them can take care of their children together, but that is not true in this country anymore. We are not living that way anymore and we are not fostering that kind of family life as much as we used too. So, that’s why I’m concerned about it,” Lewis said.
Lewis said when her children were growing up, there was not an “emergency” like there is now with COVID-19. Two of her grandchildren are adults. However, she does have teenage grandchildren in Philadelphia, who are active in school and sports. If she did have school-age children, Lewis said she would try to see that they lived as a normal of life as they could without associating too closely with people that could be contagious. She also believes in teaching kids about God and Christian principles. Even though most families can’t go to church or Sunday school right now, they can study the Scripture at home, have devotionals or watch church services on television or the internet.
“I do notice that my son and his wife are trying to keep their children on a normal course. He takes them to his law office and has them do their studying there, so that they are not distracted like they might be at home. They also have supervision when it comes to use of their Smartphones and things like that, because he keeps an eye on them, and I think that’s incredibly important,” Lewis said.
One thing she said that is different about COVID-19 is that it is worldwide, whereas even in the World War’s, some countries held back or weren’t involved.
“This thing has no boundaries. I don’t know that there’s any nation that hasn’t been impacted by this. So, it’s a different situation. With The Great Depression and World War II, there was no invisible contagion that you couldn’t identify, and that’s what’s happened here…We didn’t know what hit us is the real truth,” Lewis said.
During quarantine, Lewis hasn’t been able to go to church or go to some of her favorite restaurants. She hasn’t been to any parties or had any friends over for lunch. She’s had to wear a mask, and stay in her own home, because of the danger, not only to herself, but others.
“I happen to be a little bit self-independent, anyway. I enjoy playing Scrabble. I’m an artist and I paint. I also have a piano that I’ve neglected, but I love playing music. I have a good many things that I can rely on to keep me occupied. So, I don’t have that big worry as far as isolation, but I know that some people do. I have one or two neighbors and their health is very questionable, and therefore, they are limited as far as what they can do. It’s not very pleasant to just stay in your house or to not be able to go any further than your porch,” Lewis said.
In conversation, she stresses the importance of patience. She also believes people in America are resilient and will conquer the pandemic.
“As far as this pandemic is concerned, I think this: Ultimately, the inventiveness and scientific know-how of our country and the wisdom of God imparted to human beings will overcome it. Like we overcame Smallpox, Tuberculosis and Polio, and all the other major diseases that have struck humanity. We have applied wisdom, information, and science, and we’ve overcome them in a general sense, and I believe we’ll do that with this one. We just have to be a little bit patient, and have some faith that we can overcome it, and I believe we can,” Lewis said.
She distinctly remembers the Polio epidemic. People were terrified that their children would develop the disease and people took all kinds of precautions. President Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921 and his legs became permanently paralyzed. She believes there will come a time when we will have a vaccine for COVID-19 as well as be able to treat and prevent it.
“What I would say, if you want me to talk about patience, that’s the word. Let’s be as careful as we can now, and know that the old saying that we’ve all heard is ‘This too shall pass’ and that happens with everything that comes into human experience, almost, and I believe, this too shall pass. We are going to find a vaccine. We are going to find the treatment for anybody who happens to contract this disease, but it may be a good many months in the future,” Lewis said.
She continued, “In my case, I pray to God that he will impart his wisdom on the correction of, and the healing of those who have this disease, and the prevention for others, and that’s what we have to be patient with is hoping that we will find the correction and the prevention of this disease, and I believe we will because have always in the past. The major diseases that were contagious have been conquered.”