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Ennis Daily News

Man about town

WWII hero, civic icon still going strong at age 81
“Fortune favors the brave” – Publius Terence
Without a doubt Bill Lewis has experienced good fortune and if old Publius is correct in his assertion, the brave bit also applies to the World War II hero who became one of this city’s most beloved mayors.
From Mexia originally, life’s twists and turns brought him to the Bluebonnet City where he set out to make a difference in the lives of the people in a community he grew to love and now proudly calls home.
His start was modest enough.
After serving in the U.S. Army during the Second World War, he came home to search for a job.
“It was a tough time then because so many of us were looking for work, and the first people home (after the war) got all the jobs,” he said.
After changing tires at a gas station in Mexia, he was offered an assistant manager’s position at Perry Brothers Variety Store there. Lewis was soon promoted to store manager at a Perry’s location in Jacksonville before taking charge of a new store the company was opening in Ennis.
“When the district supervisor asked me if I’d like to manage the store in Ennis, my first question was to ask where Ennis was,” he said.
It was while at the store in Ennis that he met and married the woman he still calls ‘the most beautiful girl in the world.”
“My office was upstairs and had a big window so I could look over the sales floor,” Lewis recalled. “One day I saw the prettiest girl I had ever seen walk in the door. She had on blue jeans, a red shirt and red boots and I immediately asked my secretary who she was.”
As luck would have it, his secretary was the girl’s neighbor and through her they were able to meet that evening at a party.
After cake and ice cream and many spins of the old Victrola, Lewis finally summoned the courage to ask the girl to dance.
“When I finally asked her to dance with me, she laughed and told me she had been waiting for me to ask her all night,” he recalls.
“I asked her out and after getting permission from her father, we started dating and from that moment on, neither of us saw anyone else. That pretty girl became my wife Virginia, and next week, we will celebrate our 57th wedding anniversary.”
After making a home in Ennis, Lewis was offered a position with the Dallas Power and Light Company, and he and his new wife moved to Big D.
“I spent 35 years with that company and was put in charge of the west part of Dallas, which had a population of about 300,000 people,” he said. “It was a great opportunity and I met many wonderful people who helped me later on as I took charge of every fundraising endeavor the company was associated with.”
Over the years, Lewis helped raise more than $800 million dollars for various charitable organizations in Dallas County. Meantime he was active in community work, serving as leader of the Wisdom Trail division of the Boy Scouts, president of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, president of the Oak Cliff Lions Club, chairman of the YMCA, president of the Central Dads Club of Texas and a lifetime member of the PTA. While instrumental in many charities and service groups, Lewis is reluctant to accept credit for the work.
“I have had the good fortune of having an exciting life, helping where I could, and working with some of the most outstanding people,” he said.
After retirement, Bill moved back with Virginia to Ennis where he happily accepted his new role as a man of leisure –– a brief stint because the local Chamber of Commerce soon asked him to help recruit new members.
“I thought I would retire and sit back and do nothing, but that didn’t last very long,” he said. “I was asked to bring my experience with the Dallas Chamber to the Ennis program and I accepted. It started with 10 teams of five going out in the community to recruit more members and by the end of the campaign, we had doubled our membership.”
On the strength of his success at the Chamber, Lewis ran unopposed for a recently vacated Ennis City Commission place that was going to be open.
While serving as commissioner he was asked to replace the mayor when he was transferred.
After filling out the rest of that term, he ran for mayor and won unopposed.
During Lewis’ tenure as Ennis mayor he successfully implemented and completed many valuable civic projects.
“I am very proud of what we accomplished during my time as mayor,” he said. “I give all the credit to a great City Commission and to City Manager Steve Howerton. Steve is the best person I ever worked with; he knows how to get things done.”
With their combined efforts, the Ennis Railroad and Cultural History Museum was built, the library doubled in size, Bluebonnet Park was constructed, the bond for the new hospital facility was approved and the economic aspect of the Industrial Park was realized.
Howerton, Lewis’ colleague in these projects, described the impact the mayor exerted on the direction Ennis has taken.
“Every Ennis citizen has been the beneficiary of Bill’s leadership and management expertise as he served as mayor for 10 years, and for the past eight years, as he has served in numerous positions of civic leadership,” he said. “We should all be very proud of Bill Lewis and his achievements on behalf of the city and citizens of Ennis.”
Howerton went on to explain how key Lewis was to the hospital project.
“Bill Lewis led the 2005 hospital bond election campaign and was instrumental in the bond’s passage with a 65.8 percent affirmative vote,” Howerton said. “Without Bill and his leadership, the City of Ennis would not have a new, state-of-the-art hospital.”
While Lewis still serves on the Ennis Municipal Airport Board, is a member of the Ennis Noon Lions Club and on the Myrtle Cemetery Association Board, he tries to spend as much time with his family as possible.
His son David is an airline pilot with American Airlines and his grandson Barclay is a senior at the University of Missouri. Lewis credits his upbeat attitude for his longevity, and his advice to others is to “be positive and stay in God’s favor.”
He said he believes his good fortune in life has been a result of welcoming the opportunity to help others.
“My dad gave me the best advice when I was leaving to join the service,” Lewis said.
“He told me to look people in the eye, always shake hands and introduce yourself, but most importantly help people when you can because you’re not much good if you can’t help others.”
Lewis, still vital at age 81, looks forward to many more adventures –– in and out of Ennis. Asked what the future holds for him, he smiled and said “The best is yet to come.”

Candie Beck-Adams is community editor for the Ennis Daily News. She can be reached at candie@ennisdailynews.com

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Posted by on Jul 29 2008. Filed under Sports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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