FT. PAYNE — Dr. Ronnie Lewis was the fifth of seven children. Growing up, according to his sisters Kathy Bell and Peggy Croft, they may not have had much, but they had each other and their faith. But on Tuesday, May 29, 2018, Dr. Lewis succumbed to throat cancer, which had metastasized to his lung. He left behind friends, family, colleagues and a lot of wonderful memories.
“Ronnie worked from the time he was 16. He carried out groceries, but he was such a good and honest person the store’s owner would let him close the store at night. That was a huge responsibility for a 16-year-old,” Kathy said.
That 16-year-old became the valedictorian of his class, and his motto was, “Why make a B when you can make an A.” He managed to put himself through medical school as one of 162 graduates of the University of Alabama School of Medicine. Dr. Lewis took his determination to Huntsville as he embarked on his internship…but first he needed a trailer to get there.
“When he graduated medical school and went to Huntsville, he was going to buy a trailer but the bank was going to make our father co-sign the loan with him. Ronnie didn’t like that and said no. He didn’t want our father tied up like that. We weren’t rich. We didn’t have much, and we worked very hard for what little we did have. Ronnie told that bank if they couldn’t let him have that loan then he wouldn’t get it. Then they went to another bank, and all Ronnie had to do was to sign the papers. It was taken care of,” Kathy said.
As soon as he could come home to Fyffe, he opened his first medical practice, but he had no intention of being the average physician. He loved people, and no matter what ailment brought his patients to his clinic they always got the best care…and a hug.
“There’s never a week that goes by when someone doesn’t tell us how Ronnie impacted their life,” Peggy said. “There are numerous people who have said he saved their lives, but Ronnie always said, ‘No, God did that. He just used me.’ He never took any credit and that’s why he was such a great doctor. If you came for a bad cold, you got a hug. If you came for a catastrophic disease, you got a hug. It didn’t matter what you came for, you got a hug. He had patients who would just come to the office just for those hugs. He didn’t make you feel just like another patient. He made you feel like family. He loved people, all people, and they loved him. It was like he never met a stranger.”
In fact, when he was elected Vice President of the Medical Association’s Board of Censors, he didn’t make a fuss over it, and he didn’t want anyone else to either. He wasn’t hiding his accomplishment, he just saw it as a way to better fight for his patients. It wasn’t about him, said his practice manager, Julia Acrey.
“That was just his way. It was never about him. When we found out, we had cake…and then he gave us that LOOK! It was all in good fun to celebrate him!” Julia said.
Faith was a large part of Dr. Lewis’ life. He would often pray for and with his patients He prayed for his patients and with his patients. Kathy remembered when her brother was on call at the hospital and met a patient named Maggie.
“When he walked in he said, ‘Miss Maggie, my name is Dr. Lewis, and I’m going to be your doctor.’ The first thing she said to him was, ‘Doctor, will you pray for me?’ He knelt beside her bed, held her hand and prayed for her. She never went anywhere else. Her daughter told us that some mornings she would get up and tell her that she needed to go see Dr. Lewis because she needed a hug. But that was Ronnie,” Kathy said.
Not only did Dr. Lewis have a gift for the medical arts but also a gift for the musical arts. Dr. Lewis was president of the Alabama School of Gospel Music. As much as he loved his patients, singing old-fashioned, convention-style gospel music and playing the piano gave his heart and soul immense joy.
“He loved ‘convention style’ gospel sings,” Peggy said. “ Ronnie would go to these sings every Friday night, stay all day Saturday and Sunday, and come back in the office on Monday and could hardly talk because he had sung his heart out over the weekend.”
According to Kathy, one of Dr. Lewis’ most prized possessions was his piano.
“When he went home at night, he would play for hours because it brought him so much joy,” Kathy said. “He’d played piano just about his entire life. God blessed him because he used his talent for Him, and he used every ounce of that talent for Him. That made him a great doctor, a great musician, and just a wonderful, special person.”
The Alabama School of Gospel Music held a special place in Dr. Lewis’ heart. ASGM hosts students for two weeks each June who are interested in pursuing a higher instruction in gospel music. The school is on the campus of Snead State Community College in Boaz and this year’s students traveled from seven states and Israel for the course.
It was Dr. Lewis’ final wish not for flowers but for donations to the Alabama School of Gospel Music to help pay the tuition for future students. So far since the end of May, the school has collected around $5,000 in his name. Donations can be mailed to the school at P.O. Box 199, Fyffe, AL 35971 or online at www.alabamagospel.com.