The Rev. Dr. Frank Lewis was a giant of humble stature. He was a man of average height, but he cast a long shadow over his Roswell community. He was called from his life of service too soon Aug. 5 at the age of 64, but I am sure he entered his Father’s House justified, as the preachers used to say, of a life well spent.
I came to know the Rev. Lewis as I met many of the leaders in Roswell when I came to my first Roswell Rotary Club meeting. I wanted to get to know Roswell’s leaders and for them to know me. As the newly minted editor of the (then bi-weekly) Revue & News, I knew that was a beehive for the city.
One of the first I met was Municipal Court Judge Maurice Hilliard who took me under his wing and squired me around the room making introductions. He quickly brought me before the Rev. Lewis telling me, “Here is a man you need to know.”
Here was a genial but quiet man of average height – I would become aware that was perhaps the only “average” thing about him. He smiled pleasantly and shook my hand. I don’t think he said much at all, but that day was much of a blur to me as I recall it some 20 years hence.
Perhaps I remembered him because his was a conspicuous black face in a sea of some 200 white faces. But the Roswell Rotary Club is one of those arenas that draws the best and brightest of the community. And so, I believe, he was determined to be there just as I was.
I remember the judge telling me that the Rev. Lewis was an important man in Roswell and that no man seeking political office in the city failed to make the acquaintance of the good reverend.
“He is a man who speaks softly, but he carries a very big stick in this town,” the judge told me.
Speaking at his funeral, Hilliard said, “The Rev. Dr. Father was preacher, teacher, psychologist and rabbi to us all.”
I would learn that this soft-spoken man did carry the moral weight of his community. I would learn that his community was not limited to the black community of Roswell, but for all whose voice is not heard at the seats of power. And he would speak for them all.
I walked into the Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Zion Circle and immediately felt the pulse of the building. Many, many people were here to say goodbye. There was the congregation of course, but many others were there who were touched by the Rev. Lewis and wanted to pay him their respects.
All of the seats were full, and many stood.
Inside, there were 11 ministers on the dais to eulogize the reverend. When asked to stand, 20 or more clergymen that I could see stood.
This was the house that the Rev. Lewis built. It is a magnificent sanctuary that stands with the many great churches of Roswell. But he made this church happen. He had many to help him, drawn to him and his vision for the church.
The Rev. Lewis rose to preach his first sermon on the third Sunday of January 1969. He found his calling as a teenager. He would work 19 years at Rich’s Department Store in Atlanta, becoming a manager. He also prepared for his theological career attending Carver Bible College (bachelor’s degree), Emanuel Baptist Seminary, Atlanta, (master’s degree in Christian education) and Gwinnett Hall Baptist College (Ph.D., theology).
In spring 1983, he answered the call to Zion Missionary Church after eight years as pastor of Duluth’s Friendship Baptist Church. Along the way, he met and married his life partner of 42 years Mamie, and they raised their son, Aubrey.
To recount his community service in addition to that to his congregation – the Groveway Community Group, North Fulton Community Charities, the North Fulton Child Development Association, to name a few – reduces a lifetime of service to just a list. His capacity for service was boundless.
North Fulton Charities Director of Development Vonda Malbrough remembered the 18-year NFCC board member emeritus as a man who “made a difference near and far” in the lives of people he served.
“He was involved and effective. When he talked, you listened. But his silence was powerful,” Malbrough said. “He told me, it does not matter what you say. What you do is what matters.”
He also found time – 30 years of it – to devote to Chiros, a prison ministry. When he came to Zion Baptist Church, he found the church sponsored Scout Troop 206, which had fallen dormant. This would not do, and the men of the church answered his call.
“Scouting is responsible for my being where I am today,” I heard the Rev. Lewis say. “It taught me the values of honesty, integrity and timeliness growing up in Millen, Georgia. I wanted that for our young people.”
I heard him say that in 2007 when he was awarded the Silver Beaver, Scouting’s highest honor for a Scout leader.
Lewis saw to it that no boy is denied participation due to financial reasons.
“He gives his all for these boys – personal, financial,” said Zion Scout leader Frank Edwards in 2007. “When we needed a trailer to carry all of our equipment, he got us a trailer and a van.”
Kenneth Barton Jr., another Zion Scout leader who received his Silver Beaver at the same ceremony at the Galleria in Cobb County Lewis received his, credited the Rev. Lewis’ leadership.
“Rev. Lewis leads us all. We want to do well to please him,” Barton said at the time. “He inspires us all.”
So he does still.