Rep. John Lewis’ wife, Lillian, dies

Sad news amid the fiscal cliff madness: Lillian Miles Lewis, the wife of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, died this morning in Atlanta, his office announced. Spokeswoman Brenda Jones said John Lewis is returning to Atlanta today but had no more details to release about the cause of death.

Lewis-5

John and Lillian Lewis in 1988 (AJC file/Johnny Crawford)

The Lewises had been married 44 years. They have one son, John Miles.

From the AJC’s obit:

Lillian Lewis met her future husband when he was already a civil rights legend, and played a key role in his transition to a career in politics.

Lewis, whose father owned a small contracting business, attended Los Angeles High School with the late Johnny Cochran, received an undergraduate degree in English from California State College (now California State University) at Los Angeles, and a master’s degree in library science at the University of Southern California.

She developed a lifelong interest in Africa when she taught in a student program in Nigeria in 1960, returning later as a Peace Corps volunteer to teach for two years in Yaba, Nigeria.

It was after taking a job as a librarian at Atlanta University (the predecessor, with Clark College, of today’s Clark Atlanta University) that she met her husband at a 1967 New Year’s Eve party at the home of television personality and civil rights activist Xernona Clayton. Clayton and another movement veteran, Dr. Bernard LaFayette, played matchmaker.

The two began a courtship, often double-dating with Julian and Alice Bond, movement friends who would become bitter rivals when Bond and Lewis opposed each other in a 1986 congressional race.

The Lewises were married in 1968.

“I was attracted to him before I knew him,” Mrs. Lewis said later. “Every day and every night on the news was something about what was happening in the civil rights movement, so I felt like I knew him.”

In his memoir, “Walking With the Wind,” Lewis recalled how his wife helped him decide to run for Congress in 1977 — a race he lost to Wyche Fowler — and became his chief adviser.

“She had always been very involved in politics, much more than I. She had been a delegate (supporting Shirley Chisholm) to the Democratic National Convention in ’72, and she was constantly active in a variety of local circles and organizations. She was outgoing, involved, intelligent and great in front of an audience — she could make a speech. She also knew how to organize, how to chair a meeting, the nitty-gritty stuff. When she finally said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s go for it,’ that was enough. We were in,” Lewis wrote.

Mrs. Lewis continued to play a major behind-the-scenes role in her husband’s career, which progressed from winning a seat on the Atlanta City Council in 1981 to his upset victory over Bond in the 1986 congressional race.

Send your condolences

- By Daniel Malloy, Political Insider

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49 comments Add your comment

kaycee

December 31st, 2012
4:02 pm

Lillian Lewis was a very nice lady. I met her years ago at Atlanta University, also the last time I saw her. What a loss.

Kat

December 31st, 2012
4:02 pm

Behind every great man, there’s a great woman. She was his.

Linda Lewis

December 31st, 2012
4:02 pm

Our prayers are with you and your family,

Anna Kershaw

December 31st, 2012
4:09 pm

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Congressman Lewis and to his family and friends. A sad day indeed.

The Vitals

December 31st, 2012
4:11 pm

Our family will keep you in our prayers.

This is Mrs. Norman Maine

December 31st, 2012
4:14 pm

My sincerest sympathies to Mr. Lewis and to John Miles Lewis.

JB

December 31st, 2012
4:14 pm

My condolences Mr. Lewis to you and your family …..

Mary Williams

December 31st, 2012
4:18 pm

You and your family are in my prayers. God will get you all through this.

Bell Bottoms

December 31st, 2012
4:23 pm

My deepest condolences . May she rest in peace.

I AM FOR THE WORKING & MIDDLE CLASS

December 31st, 2012
4:24 pm

My heartfelt condolences & prayers to Rep. John Lewis, his son & the rest of the family.

beebee

December 31st, 2012
4:26 pm

A happy day. She lived a good life here. Now she is “done with the troubles of the world. She is going home to be with God!”

Linda Robertson

December 31st, 2012
4:27 pm

. As the saying goes, behind every great man there is a great woman. Such was the case with Congressman Lewis. My sincere condolences to Congressman Lewis and son in the loss of their wonderful wife & mother. Your family is in my prayers. May you be comforted and find peace in your loss.

Moderate

December 31st, 2012
4:31 pm

As a conservative, I’ve most often disagreed with Congressman Lewis’ politics and positions. However, he and his wife have established themselves as honest, decent, free of scandal, and worthy of our respect. Congressman Lewis is now truly worthy of our sympathy and prayers.

Angela

December 31st, 2012
4:32 pm

Mr. Lewis, you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers

elaine mc chesney

December 31st, 2012
4:32 pm

so very sorry for your loss. sending love and healing and strength to you and your son….<3

Bishop Harry Greene

December 31st, 2012
4:33 pm

My thoughts and prayers are with you Mr. Lewis.

scott anderson

December 31st, 2012
4:36 pm

sympathy for the family

she was a well respected and truly classy lady.

scott anderson

December 31st, 2012
4:36 pm

sympathy for the family

she was a well respected and truly classy lady.

scott anderson

December 31st, 2012
4:36 pm

sympathy for the family

she was a well respected and truly classy lady.

RLP

December 31st, 2012
4:38 pm

May God bless and keep you.

Kathy

December 31st, 2012
4:39 pm

My sympathy and prayers are with Mr. Lewis and his family at this time. May God comfort your hearts.

Wife of Rep. John Lewis dies

December 31st, 2012
4:41 pm

[...] In his memoirs, John Lewis credited his wife with helping launch his political career, which began with an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1977. [...]

01HAWK

December 31st, 2012
4:45 pm

May she rest in peace. Appears to be a Great Woman.

Jim

December 31st, 2012
4:46 pm

Forget politics. Mr. Lewis is a CLASS act who has demonstrated over the years that he has compassion and care for everyone. Compassion and care should now be given to Mr. Lewis by everyone. God Bless.

Julie Smart

December 31st, 2012
4:48 pm

Forget politic and give consideration when there is a death, such as with Sid Williams too.

Audrich

December 31st, 2012
4:48 pm

My thoughts and prayers to the Lewis family

Richard Rhodes

December 31st, 2012
4:54 pm

My thoughts and prayers with Mr. Lewis & John Miles. Lillian was a great and inspiring lady.

ATLGal

December 31st, 2012
4:56 pm

Atlanta has lost a great woman. Rest in Peace, dear Lillian.

Donald Kinchen

December 31st, 2012
5:00 pm

My condolences to you and your family and may God continue to bless you.

Dr. Derek S. Washington

December 31st, 2012
5:02 pm

I was with Congressman Lewis on February 27, 1960, when he and I and about 73 others were arrested in Nashville in sit-in demonstrations. My condolences to you in the loss of your devoted wife. I never had the privilege of meeting her but by all accounts and based on what you state about her in your autobiography, she was a perfect mate for you and together, you were a fine team. My thoughts are with you and your family.

Fred ™

December 31st, 2012
5:05 pm

John Lewis is a hero of mine for his civil rights work. I had the honor of meeting him and having my young daughter meet him and talk with him (he talked to her for maybe 45 minutes while lobbyists waited in his office) a couple of years ago when she was 8. I never met his wife but she must have been a strong, good woman. My deepest condolences to him and his family.

Cassandra Madison

December 31st, 2012
5:10 pm

Condolences to the Lewis family for their loss. Our prayers and blessings of peace are with you.

Linda Moss

December 31st, 2012
5:11 pm

So sorry for your loss. My prayers go out to your family and friends. This is a great loss for Africa as well.

mamaj

December 31st, 2012
5:12 pm

Congressman Lewis; may God be with you, your son and family in your time of grief.

Bryan Gooch

December 31st, 2012
5:14 pm

I had the privilege of meeting and speaking with you and your late wife at an HRC event. She was truly an educated and gracious lady. She would be, what my late grandmother described as a real “Southern Broad”, sweet and gentile on the outside; but a pillar of strength and conviction on the inside. We all have truly lost a bright and shining light here on earth, but I feel blessed knowing she’s up there on our side. My prayers go out to you and your family at this time, and will continue in the future. Especially now that I know I can speak to Lillian directly to give you the strength and courage to continue what you do for us.

Lisa

December 31st, 2012
5:16 pm

I do know her husband but not her, but such a lost of a beautiful and smart, and loving lady she will be truly missed.

John Lee

December 31st, 2012
5:16 pm

My heart goes out to the Lewis family.

PID

December 31st, 2012
5:16 pm

May God bless the departed’s soul and give John the strength to carry on. Thanks for everything the couple has done.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

December 31st, 2012
5:19 pm

Condolences to the Lewis family and may you find peace in your loss.

tyrace

December 31st, 2012
5:21 pm

Thank you very much for everything you and your Wife have done for us.My God be with you and your son in your time of grief.

HEALTHCAREFORALL

December 31st, 2012
5:24 pm

Our hearts go out to you.May God be with you in your time of need. Your sacrafices to the cause were great.Please know that all Georgians prayers are with you.
God Bless

kounta kante

December 31st, 2012
5:26 pm

my condolence congressman

Cynthia

December 31st, 2012
5:26 pm

Political affiliations irrelevant at this time. Sincere condolences to the Lewis family.

Tammy Lynn

December 31st, 2012
5:36 pm

I don’t agree with his politics but he is an icon of the Civil Rights movement. She looked liked a lovely,classy and beautiful woman. Im so sorry for your loss, John. May all of our prayers be with you.

[...] According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Lillian Lewis grew up in Los Angeles and developed a lifelong interest in Africa. She taught in Nigeria in 1960 in a student program and later returned to Africa in the Peace Corps. The newspaper said, [...]

[...] According to the AJC, “Lilian attended Los Angeles High School with the late Johnny Cochran, received an undergraduate degree in English from California State College (now California State University) at Los Angeles, and a master’s degree in library science at the University of Southern California.” [...]

[...] According to the AJC, “Lillian attended Los Angeles High School with the late Johnny Cochran, received an undergraduate degree in English from California State College (now California State University) at Los Angeles, and a master’s degree in library science at the University of Southern California.” [...]

[...] AJC Obituary said the following: Lillian Lewis met her future husband when he was already a civil rights legend, [...]

[...] According to the AJC, “Lillian attended Los Angeles High School with the late Johnny Cochran, received an undergraduate degree in English from California State College (now California State University) at Los Angeles, and a master’s degree in library science at the University of Southern California.” [...]