Remembering Robert Lewis
Robert William Lewis, editor of the North Dakota Quarterly and Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of English and Peace Studies, died Aug. 26, 2013, in hospice care. He was 82. He was a teacher, writer, editor, poet, scholar, naturalist, humanist, superlative father, grandfather and dear friend to many.
He was born near the Monongahela River in Elrama, Pa., on Dec. 15, 1930, to Robert W. Lewis and Bernadette “Beryl” Dillon, the third of four children, and only son. As a young boy he took his injured terrier, Queenie, to the chiropractor, and one Christmas yearned for a bb gun and instead received an umbrella. His prowess on the basketball court, in the Heinz Chapel Choir, and on the theatre stage were strengths undiminished by time. He continued to play noon ball into his 70s at the University of North Dakota Fieldhouse, and sang a cappella on his deathbed.
Robert received his B.A. in English from the University of Pittsburgh, his M.A. from Columbia University, and his Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign in 1963. He served in the U.S. Army and fought in the Korean War, eventually retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves. While at Columbia University, he met and married Leila Jose Lewis on Sept. 5, 1955. They had two daughters, Lisa and Nina.
In 1969, while teaching at the University of Texas in Austin and serving as the Peace Corps coordinator there, Robert accepted Dean Bernard O’Kelly’s offer to chair the English Department at the University of North Dakota. He was instrumental in the cultivation of many programs, among them the Indian Studies Department, the Peace Studies Program, and the Writers Conference.
He was a Fulbright-Hays lecturer in Catania, Sicily, during the 1967-68 academic years, and in 1975-76 was again a Fulbright-Hays lecturer at Ain-Shams University in Cairo, Egypt. He was named Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor in 1990 and since 1982 served as editor of the North Dakota Quarterly, moving it from the History Department to its present home in the English Department. He was a strong and stalwart supporter for the North Dakota Museum of Art since its nascent beginnings as a gallery in the Student Union, and served as the Museum’s first board president. He was elected to serve three terms as president of the international Hemingway Society and served as chair of the board of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation upon Mary Hemingway’s request.
Indeed, the historical figure with whom Robert most identified was Ernest Hemingway, and he devoted his life’s scholarship to Hemingway’s writing. He was the author and/or editor of numerous books and articles, including, among others, Hemingway on Love (University of Texas 1965), Hemingway in Italy and Other Essays (Praeger 1990), Masterwork Study Series: A Farewell to Arms (Twayne Publishers 1992), and Under Kilimanjaro (Kent State University Press 2005). In June of 2013 he completed his book manuscript Reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms for Kent State University Press.
He loved his work, the constancy, and the vigilant scholarship. But his love for the natural world unspoiled was as significant, where he knew intimately the bush sunflower from the golden aster, where he lived deliberately along the winding Turtle River, planting scrubby pines and oaks, cottonwoods, and basswood for his bees, where navigating in his canoe many of the Midwest’s rivers and tributaries brought him unparalleled joy, and where the grey shrike and the steely blue swallow surrounded his unfettered prairie view. In 1998, when he chaired the program for the Biennial Hemingway Conference in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, he preferred to stay home and, instead, cultivate his tomatoes.
He is survived by his two daughters, Lisa Lewis (John Ettling), Plattsburgh, New York; Nina Lewis, Grand Forks; and six grandchildren: Dylan (Christine Norgren) Spicer, Moorhead, Minn.; Nile (Derek) Spicer Kobetsky, Grand Forks; Chloe Spicer, New York, N.Y.; and Sasha Spicer, New York, N.Y.; Lewis Bachmeier, Mandan, N.D., and Dashiell Lewis-Smart, Grand Forks. He is survived by three great-grandchildren, Jonas and Isabel Norgren-Spicer, Moorhead, and Pilar Kobetsky, Grand Forks; his sister, Mary L. Cochrane, Palm Desert, Calif.; five nephews, two nieces; his former wife, Leila Jose Lewis, Grand Forks; and his former son-in-law, Mark Spicer, Grand Forks. His parents, two sisters, Violet Lewis and Beryl Weitzel, and two brothers-in-law, George Weitzel and James Cochrane, predeceased him.
Memorial contributions are suggested to the North Dakota Quarterly, 276 Centennial Drive, Stop 7209, Merrifield Hall Room 15, Grand Forks, ND 58202-7209, or to the North Dakota Museum of Art, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, PO Box 7305, Grand Forks, ND 58202-7305.
A memorial celebration to honor Robert’s life will be held at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at the North Dakota Museum of Art.
A Mass in Robert’s name will be held at a later date at St. Mary’s Catholic Church where he had been a long time member.
Interment is to be scheduled at a later date. -- Norman Funeral Chapel.