Lewis, Thomas 1939–
Thomas Lewis 1939–
Fishing school administrator
“If you give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will feed himself for a lifetime.” This familiar creed stands as the cornerstone of Thomas Lewis’s commitment to the youth of Washington, D.C.
Lewis was born in Chadbourn, North Carolina, the sixth of 15 children, and moved to Elizabe-thtown, North Carolina as a young child. His mother, Martha, picked cotton, and his father, Gaston, worked in a sawmill. Lewis dropped out of school after tenth grade and, like most of his siblings, left home. He found work as a migrant farm laborer picking fruits and vegetables in Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, New York, and Florida. In 1959 Lewis moved to New York, was drafted into the U.S. Army, and stationed in France. While in the Army, he earned a high-school-equivalency degree.
After being discharged from the Army, Lewis worked as a postal clerk for one year before joining the Washington, D.C. police force in December of 1965. He remained in contact with his family, often providing them with emotional and financial assistance. As his brother Ed Lewis recalls in an interview with People Magazine, “Tom was always, always the guy to make sure the family stood together.”
Upon joining the Washington D.C. police force, Lewis served as a beat officer and patrolled the streets of the nation’s capital during the riots which occurred following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. As a police officer, Lewis was faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, he was sworn to uphold the law and serve as a representative of the police force, a force which routinely discriminated against African Americans. However, Lewis also understood the anger of African Americans and their thirst for justice. Lewis described in a television interview for Black and Blue how he was tormented by the idea of arresting the rioters, knowing the depth of their hopelessness and despair. He remarked that he often struggled to control his own outrage and anger.
After three years on the force, Lewis was transferred to the community relations department. For the next 18 years, Lewis regularly visited classrooms throughout the
At a Glance…
Born Thomas Lewis, in 1939, in Chadbourn, NC; son of Martha Lewis, a cotton picker, and Gaston Lewis, a sawmill worker; married to Lucille; children: Jason, Patrick, Tisha. Education: American University, BS, 1975; Sacred Hour Ministerial School of Discipleship, Certificate in Ministry, 1984.
Career: Washington D.C. Police Department, officer, 1965-86; Hope Village Community Treatment Center, vocational counselor, 1986-87; Lutheran Social Services, senior family counselor, 1987-89; For Love of Children, family and child services coordinator, 1989-93; Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C Boys and Girls Club, early intervention program coordinator, 1992-95; The Fishing School, founder, director, chairman of the board of directors, 1990-.
Selected awards: Washingtonian of the year, 1997; One and Only Nine Award, 1995; Jefferson Award, Institute for Public Service, 1995; Public Service Award, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, 1997; Community Service Award, Seventh Day Adventist Church, 1996, 1997.
Memberships: Leadership Washington; Fraternal Order of Police.
Addresses: The Fishing School, 1240 Wylie Street, NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; Mailing address: PO Box 60674, Washington, D.C. 20039.
D.C. public school system to counsel students and to teach good citizenship, drug abstinence, and safety. His dedication and commitment to children embodied the essence of the “Officer Friendly” program, and he was often called by this nickname. Lewis was frequently overwhelmed when he visited classrooms and witnessed the poverty and desperation exhibited by the students. As he related to People Magazine in 1996, “I never saw so many filthy, dirty children coming to school in the morning. I stepped out of many classrooms with tears in my eyes.” He was also greatly moved by the number of children who asked him to be their “daddy” and who often fought amongst themselves for his attention. Lewis decided to retire from the police force and made a personal vow to God that he would devote the rest of his life to helping children in need.
During his years with the Washington D.C. police department, Lewis’s personal life flourished. He married his wife, Lucille, and together they had three children, Jason, Patrick, and Tisha. In 1975, he earned a bachelor of science degree in administration of justice from American University and became a licensed social worker. He organized a gospel music group, the Capitol Community Singers, in 1974 and has written and recorded five albums with the group. A religiously devout man, Lewis completed three years of study at the Sacred Hour School of Discipleship in Glen Arden, Maryland and was ordained a minister in 1984. He served as the assistant to the pastor at Goodwill Baptist Church in Washington until 1997 and since then has served as the staff minister in the interdenominational HIS Church.
On February 14, 1986, Tom Lewis retired from the Washington D.C. police force. From 1986 to 1987 he worked as a vocational counselor at Hope Village Community Treatment Center, the largest halfway house in Washington D.C., helping newly released prisoners to re-enter society. From 1987 to 1993 he worked for two nonprofit agencies, Lutheran Social Services and For Love of Children, first as a family counselor and then as a family and child services coordinator.
In 1989, Lewis had a vision. He decided to convert a rental property that he had purchased in northeast Washington, D.C. into a family service center. Although he was not certain that his vision would come to pass, Lewis relied heavily upon his religious faith. As he stated in The Washington Informer, “Success begins with God and if you have everything you want and don’t have a relationship with God, I don’t think you’re going to go far.”
In March of 1990 Lewis opened The Fishing School, a school devoted to providing children with after-school educational, social, and religious training. Lewis’s ambitious agenda focuses on teaching children and parents to “fish,” to learn how to respect and care for others while also learning to respect and care for themselves. “We are fishing in the rivers of the mind,” Lewis often comments. “I want to find out what it is that these children are fishing for and then teach them how they can get it.” As the school’s mission statement dictates, “The Fishing School endeavors to create and nurture the desire, will, and discipline required for inner-city children to develop into independent, productive members of our society.”
Lewis recognizes that children entering The Fishing School bring many “stones” with them: stones of poverty, illiteracy, judgment, hopelessness, sin, pain, and complacency. During an interview on the CBS television show Window on America, Lewis poignantly expressed the hope that his children become stone rollers rather than rolling stones. “Our hope,” he remarked, “is that once we begin rolling away stones of fear, selfishness, faithlessness, pride, domination, and misunderstanding, those in the neighborhood who are buried in the tomb of hopelessness will come forth. When they do, they’ll use their many talents, skills, and ideas to free themselves from their social and economic bonds.”
Lewis firmly believes that children are capable of assessing the direction of their life. Given the proper circumstances, moreover, they can be motivated to make all necessary changes. Most importantly, Lewis hopes to help children discover their own inner beauty and develop self-esteem.
Improving academic performance is one of The Fishing School’s primary goals. To accomplish this goal, students are offered Bible study, tutoring, homework assistance, science and rocketry classes, computer classes, gospel choir, dance, drama, and arts and crafts. These disciplines all interact to form a dynamic after-school curriculum. In the rough Washington, D.C. neighborhood that is home to The Fishing School, Lewis has many other aims for his program. As Thomason remarked, “With his free, family-oriented programs, Lewis tries to keep the souls of youngsters from becoming as dilapidated as many of the buildings around them.” As Oklahoma Representative J.C. Watts commented in his 1996 address to the Republican Party Convention, “Tom understands that what we build, nourish, and encourage the youth of America to be today is what our country will be 20 years from now.”
Involvement by parents and guardians is critical to the success of The Fishing School program. A parent or guardian must accompany each student who applies for admission to the school. Adults are also asked to volunteer five hours each month in the school as compensation for the services which their children receive. Although the school lacks sufficient funding to offer an all-encompassing community program, the school is open to parents before 3:00 p.m. Staff members counsel parents, serve as mentors and tutors, and offer referral services to other community-based organizations. In the fall of 1998, the school will also begin to explore the possibility of providing GED courses. As they do with the children, Lewis and his staff work to motivate parents to succeed.
The Fishing School has been able to celebrate numerous success stories. Several Fishing School students have given poetry readings at Borders Books. One graduate performed at the Washington School of Ballet and another won an $8,000 creative-writing scholarship. Three students have received Free the Children Trust scholarships, one placed first in his school in the Stanford Nine Proficiency Test, and several have been accepted at the Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts in Washington. In 1996, the school boasted its first high school graduate.
In 1998, Lewis expanded The Fishing School concept into other needy areas of Washington, D.C. Plans were announced for the opening of a second Fishing School in September of 1998. Rita Davis, a mother of six grown children, contacted Lewis after viewing a television program about The Fishing School. She donated a two-story home which, after renovation, will become a community child care center. It is expected that this Fishing School will serve an additional 30 children with four paid staff members and several volunteers and consultants.
Despite the success of The Fishing School, Lewis struggles to secure consistent financial assistance. He receives occasional small grants from local foundations and from the United Black Fund, an agency of the United Way. For the first time, the school received some federal money in 1998 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As expenses continue to increase, Lewis must rely heavily on private donations. Families are asked to contribute $25.00 each so that children can attend The Fishing School’s summer program. However, some families are unable to pay due to financial hardships. Lewis often talks about attending “Hope Meetings,” gatherings where he hopes to meet people who will provide financial help. Since the school’s inception, Lewis has never accepted a salary.
Although his job as executive director of The Fishing School presents many challenges, Lewis remains a man of faith who is passionately committed to success. As he remarked on the CBS television show Window on America, “The Lord is pleased, and that’s my job. This helps me to live out my calling. When I am finished at The Fishing School, I will go home to the Lord to rest.”
Channel 32 Magazine, April 1994, p. 3.
Necessary, Winter 1996, pp. 6-7, 15.
People, September 30, 1996, pp. 59-60.
TwentyFIRST, March 1997, p. 24.
Washingtonian, January 1997, p. 79.
Washington Informer, May 9-15, 1996, pp. 8-9.
Washington Post, May 12, 1994, p. DC2.
World Magazine, 1996.
American Family, NET Television, 1996.
Black and Blue, Washington, D.C. Channel 8.
“The Fleecing Of America,” NBC Television News, March 6, 1998.
Promotional Materials, The Fishing School.
Washington, D.C. Channel 4, February 1998.
Window on America, CBS Television.
—Lisa S. Weitzman
"Lewis, Thomas 1939–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lewis-thomas-1939
"Lewis, Thomas 1939–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lewis-thomas-1939
(b. Cardiff, Wales, 26 December 1881; d. Rickmansworth, England, 17 March 1945),
physiology, cardiology, clinical science.
Thomas Lewis’ parents were Welsh. His father, Henry Lewis, was a prominent coal mining engineer from a long line of Monmouthshire yeomen. The family was well-to-do, and Lewis was educated at home until the age of sixteen by his mother and a private tutor. His upbringing was Methodist and his father, to whose encouragement and stimulus he owed much, was a widely read and clearheaded man with a library of several thousand volumes. However, the young Lewis had no interest in books and spent every spare moment in sporting activities and in the local fields and woods.
He took up medicine because he hoped that by becoming a doctor he might emulate the skill of the family physician, who was an expert conjurer. After preclinical work at University College, Cardiff, where he was encouraged in critical thought and research by the physiologist Swale Vincent, in 1902 he entered University College Hospital, London, his medical home for the rest of his life. He graduated M.B., B.S. (university gold medal) in 1905, M.D. in 1907, and was elected fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1913. He became a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1918 and was knighted in 1921. Of his numerous national and foreign distinctions none was more significant than the Copley Medal of the Royal Society (1941), which had previously been awarded to only one clinician, Lord Lister. In 1916 Lewis was appointed physician on the staff of the Medical Research Committee (later Council), which, as he later said, broke the ice in Great Britain as the first full-time research post in clinical medicine. Also in 1916 he married Lorna Treharne James of Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan, Wales; they had two daughters and one son.
A man of outstanding intellect with an enormous capacity for unrelenting hard work, Lewis remained in full mental vigor until the end of his life, although he sustained a myocardial infarct at the age of forty-five. At the time of a second attack eight years later he said to Sir Arthur Keith, “Another arrow from the same quiver, my friend, and one of them will get me in the end.” He died from a fourth attack at the age of sixty-three.
Lewis’ career in medical research began while he was still a student, with the publication of papers on the hemolymph glands that later became standard works. But his interest in cardiac physiology, stimulated by a year in E. H. Starling’s laboratory, came from his work with Leonard Hill on the influence of respiration on the venous and arterial pulses. This association inevitably led him into contact with James Mackenzie, whose great work, The Study of the Pulse, had appeared in 1902. Their meeting in 1908 began a friendship that profoundly influenced Lewis’ life. Mackenzie urged him to study the irregular action of the heart, and Lewis acquired the new Einthoven string galvanometer, set it up in the medical school basement, and plunged into his investigations on the spread of the excitatory processes in the dog heart, coupled with bedside and electrocardiographic studies on clinical arrhythmias. In 1909 he showed that Mackenzie’s “irregular irregularity” of the heart was due to atrial fibrillation. Only two years later The Mechanism of the Heart Beat was published, and this scholarly scientific monograph soon became the bible of electrocardiography. In the foreword to the second edition (1920) Lewis set forth his scientific credo in a passage which illustrates the simplicity and clarity of his writing:
Inexact method of observation, as I believe, is one flaw in clinical pathology to-day. Prematurity of conclusion is another, and in part follows from the first; but in chief part an unusual craving and veneration for hypothesis, which besets the minds of most medical men, is responsible. The purity of a science is to be judged by the paucity of its recorded hypothesis. Hypothesis is the heart which no man right purpose wears willingly upon his sleeve.
Lewis’ work from 1908 to 1925 gave him a complete mastery of all aspects of the electrophysiology of the heart, the human electrocardiogram, and clinical disorders of the heartbeat. It included his famous hypothesis of circus movement as the mechanism of atrial fibrillation. Much of this work, done with a succession of talented young men, of whom the first were Paul D. White of Boston and Jonathan Meakins of Montreal, was published in the journal Heart, which Lewis founded with Mackenzie’s help in 1909.
World War I interrupted these studies in 1914, just after Lewis’ return from America, where he had delivered the Herter lectures in Baltimore and the Harvey lecture in New York. Fortunately his talents were harnessed to a study of the condition known to the military as D.A.H. (deranged action of the heart), which was causing a serious loss of manpower at the front. His work at the Military Heart hospitals led to its redefinition as the effort syndrome, with “a system of graded drills employed remedially and as a means of justify grading soldiers for supposed affections of the heart.” This was the foundation of his later insistence on judging the state of the heart from the patient’s exercise tolerance rather than on the then fashionable method of assessing cardiac murmurs. He was also involved in the problems of diagnosis and prognosis in organic heart disease and with R. T. Grant instituted an unsurpassed follow-up over ten years of 1,000 soldiers with valvular disease.
By 1925 Lewis had had enough of his elaborate electrocardiographic work and, believing that “the cream was off,” he returned to observations on the cutaneous vessels which he had started during the war. He was also influenced by a growing belief that man, not animals, was the proper subject for hospital-based research. A series of observations on the vascular reaction of the skin to various injuries led to his description of the red line, flare, and wheal so produced as the triple response, with the postulate that the original stimulus acts by damaging the tissues, which produce a histaminelike compound that Lewis called the H-substance. This work was gathered together in 1927 in his monograph The Blood Vessels of the Human Skin and Their Responses. A notable feature of these experiments which became a hallmark of his later work was that they were carried out with the simplest apparatus, as was his brilliant elucidation of Trousseau’s phenomenon in tetany using only two blood-pressure cuffs. In parallel with this laboratory work he was engaged in a study of Raynaud’s disease and other maladies affecting blood flow to the limbs and digits.
Lewis’ third, and last, period began with his work on pain. One suspects that this subjective phenomenon taxed even his unique research talents to the utmost. Certainly, the summary of his researches published as the monograph Pain (1942) lacks the sparkle of his earlier writings. Nevertheless, much was accomplished. The separateness of superficial and deep pain was emphasized. The double pain response to a single stimulus distinguished two systems of pain nerves in skin. Factor P was proposed as the cause of pain in ischemic limb muscle and possibly in heart muscle as well, in angina pectoris. The pain of visceral disease and referred pain in general were investigated experimentally by the injection of hypertonic saline into the interspinal ligaments. The curious hyperalgesia of damaged skin, “erythralgia,” led to the uncharacteristically weak hypothesis of the nocifensor system of nerves.
Lewis’ worldwide fame as a teacher came from a number of books written for a wider audience than was reached by his scientific papers and monographs. The first, in 1912, was Clinical Disorders of the Heart Beat, followed in 1913 by Clinical Electrocardiography. Both went through several editions and must have been a godsend to clinicians trying to understand the then novel methods of investigating the heart, However, Lewis grudged the time spent on them, writing only from a sense of duty to the profession. His best-known book, Diseases of the Heart (1933) , was widely translated. Clinical Science, Illustrated by Personal Experiences (1934) recounted his methods of attack upon clinical problems such as intermittent claudication and bacterial endocarditis. Vascular Disorders of the Limbs (1936) is still a most useful acount. His last book, Exercise in Human Physiology (1945), demonstrates his interest in medical education and presents a detailed account of simple experiments that students may make on themselves
At University College Hospital he worked constantly in the wards and in the out-patient department. His superb clinical teaching emphasized a meticulous examination of the patient followed by a penetrating analysis of the relationship of the symptoms and signs to the underlying hemodynamic and pathological disturbances. Few students other than his clinical clerks attended his rounds, however, the majority preferring didactic presentations. At his regular medical school lectures he displayed his interest in the history of medicine, especially the French physicians of the nineteenth century.
Lewis’ most important contribution to medicine may have been his concept of clinical science, his insistence that progress in medicine would come chiefly from scientific studies on living men in health and disease, rather than from the basic science laboratories and from animal experimentation. With controlled investigation of patients now basic to much of medicine, it is difficult to relive the time when Lewis, almost alone, fought for the creation of established career posts in medical research, now numbered in the tens of thousands. This must have been the most difficult period of his life and he signaled it in 1930 by renaming his own department the Department of Clinical Research and by founding the Medical Research Society, and in July 1933 by changing the title of Heart to Clinical Science.
A complete bibliography of Lewis’ twelve books and 229 scientific papers is in the notice by A. N. Drury and R. T. Grant, in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society of London, 5 (1945), 179-202. See also American Heart Journal, 29 (1945), 419-420; British Medical Journal (1945), 1 , 461-463, 498; Lancet (1945), 1 , 419-420; University College Hospital Magazine, 30 (1945), 36-39; and British Heart Journal, 8 (1946), 1-3.
A collection of papers by his former pupils and collaborators is in University College Hospital Magazine, 40 (1955), 63-74.
"Lewis, Thomas." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/lewis-thomas
"Lewis, Thomas." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/lewis-thomas