Obituary: Ronald McGhee Lewis
Ronald McGhee Lewis of Montclair, who had a long and distinguished career as an educator, social worker and community organizer, died on Aug. 29, 2022, shortly after his 59th wedding anniversary. He was 87.
Mr. Lewis was born in Pittsburgh in 1935 to Edward Raymond Lewis and Nan Sylvia Metcalfe Lewis and had an older brother, Eddie.
He graduated from Schenley High School in Pittsburgh in 1953 and Pennsylvania State University in 1957. He received a master’s in social work from the University of Pittsburgh in 1959 and a Ph.D. in education from Stanford University in 1979. He also received a certificate in African studies from the universities of London and Ghana.
Mr. Lewis worked as a psychiatric social worker during his military service at hospitals in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. After marrying Shirley Redd in Berkeley, California, in 1963, the couple moved to Northfield, Ohio, and New York before returning to California for work in their respective fields.
He held a lead role with the community of Pittsburg, California, during the turmoil of the reaction to the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. During that time, he helped found the National Welfare Rights Organization and founded the North Richmond, California, chapter.
Mr. Lewis was hired as a faculty member in the community organization program at the School of Social Work at the University of California at Berkeley and recruited a record number of Black students into the social work program.
He helped take the struggle for the inclusion of Black history and culture into the mainstream of the university, participating in strikes and strategizing with other Black faculty and students.
This work eventually led to the foundation of the first Black studies program at Berkeley, with Mr. Lewis as the first program coordinator in 1968, a post he held until 1971.
That year he entered the Ph.D. program in education at Stanford University. During this time he worked as director of student affairs at Nairobi College in East Palo Alto, California. He helped recruit students, including citizens returning from prison and other nontraditional students, and increased transfers to four-year colleges, including Stanford.
Mr. Lewis moved moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1979 on a postdoctoral fellowship and then went to work at Meharry Medical College in the Department of Psychiatry. From there he went to work for the Nashville public schools and became coordinator of social work and attendance for the district.
He moved to Augusta, Georgia, when his wife became president of Paine College in 1994. At Paine, he was associate professor of sociology and director of graduate school placement. He also served as the founding director of the Mellon Mays program at the college.
Due to his efforts and counseling style, Paine students were admitted to and attended a record number of top graduate school programs at leading research universities.
Mr. Lewis and his wife retired in 2007 and moved to Montclair, intending to stay for a short while to be near their daughter, Mendi, and son-in-law, Keith, but deciding to remain when they became grandparents in 2011 and again in 2014.
Mr. Lewis had a dedication to community-building that extended to his personal life. He served as the adviser to the United Methodist Youth Fellowship at Clark Memorial United Methodist Church, and he organized the youth oratorical contest for the Optimist Club.
He loved jazz and had a deep connection to Black people and Black culture. He was an attentive, loving, wise, engaged father to his daughter and her community and a dedicated grandfather. He was a force in life, and his legacy will continue to grow through everyone he inspired.
Mr. Lewis is survived by his wife, Shirley A.R. Lewis; daughter, Mendi Lewis Obadike (Keith); grandsons, Uche Obadike and Jide Obadike, and extended family and beloved friends.
A celebration of his life will be held on Saturday, Sept. 10, at 11 a.m. at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 54 Elm St.
Arrangements were by Martin’s Home for Service, 48 Elm St.