Clarence Lewis was many things to many different people. Anyone fortunate enough to know him was better for it. Clarence was my friend. I suspect a great number of people consider him a friend. Clarence had a natural warmth and an inviting personality. He had a way of making people feel comfortable and he did this with sincerity. Clarence was genuine in his friendship. You never felt like he was going through the motions. To the best of my recollection, Clarence was the first adult who told me as a pre-teen to address him by his first name rather than “Mr. Lewis”.
That is just one of the innumerable ways he regarded me as a friend rather than an awkward kid. Because of his genuine nature, warm personality, and more ways than I can recount Clarence made it easy to be his friend. But it was more than his personality it was also his actions which welcomed people into his vast circle of friendship. For example, I have never met anyone who was a better host than Clarence (and the entire Lewis family). When you were in their home you were treated like family.
I say that from experience as I spent countless days and nights in Clarence’s home. During my pre-teens and the majority of my teens Clarence’s son, Steve, and I were inseparable. If Steve wasn’t at or spending the weekend at my house then I was at his.
As a result, Clarence was in many ways like a second father to me (I have been immensely blessed with several excellent father figures throughout my life including my own dad). Whenever I was in his home Clarence gave Steve and me plenty of space to do our own thing yet he always had time to dedicate to us too. I played countless games of Spades and Hearts with Clarence and his family. In fact, I learned to play Hearts from Clarence and the Lewis family. I remember how cool it was that they had a rec/game room in their house which evolved over the years to include a variety of games. I’m certain Clarence was a large reason why.
Clarence loved to play pretty much any type of game (and sport). I recall when the ping pong table first arrived in the rec room. I was instantly hooked! As I learned to play ping pong in that rec room, Clarence taught me several techniques about spinning, serving, returning, etc. As Steve and I grew older our enjoyment of ping pong grew too. With the help of others, we eventually organized a weekly ping pong club at our church and Clarence was a faithful attendee. When the group met we would play for hours at a time. Those are memories of Clarence (and everyone in the group) I will cherish forever. I can still hear Clarence’s laughter which was as genuine as his friendship as we played ping pong through the later afternoon and into the early evening. The games were good, but the company was better.
Clarence was also my Sunday School teacher for a handful of years. I confess that I cannot recall many specifics from church classes, sermons, etc. in my youth, but I still remember to this day Clarence teaching us that we should live life with the goal to “get to heaven and take as many people as we can with us”. Clarence was many things to me and his absence is felt. Yet I am grateful that Clarence will be reunited with his many friends again in heaven. I will see him again. He will be whole and healthy. I will be among the host of people who will say, “there’s my friend, Clarence!” as he welcomes us into our eternal home.
As a poor college student, I spent a lot of time at Clarence Lewis’s house. I was friends with Steven, his son. Steven and I, along with a few others including Mark Sass and Nathan Patton, would hang out in the Lewis’s basement, drink way too much soda, eat lots of food, watch movies, and play games. Clarence would leave us alone, giving us our space to just be college students. But, when we would venture upstairs, Clarence was always ready to interact. He cooked for us; making goulash more times than I can remember. And he was always ready to talk sports with me since at that time his son was hopelessly uninterested in that sort of stuff.
There was nothing extravagant about how he treated us or welcomed us into his home; He didn’t do anything elaborate or showy. He simply made room for us in his home and his family. From the first second I stepped into Clarence’s home, I felt welcome. Completely and without any reservation. That is a rare gift. I never felt like he wanted us to be somewhere else or that we were an inconvenience, though I am sure we were at times. There were even times when Steven did not accompany us to the house because he had too much to do, but Clarence still welcomed us gladly.
Clarence was like that in all parts of his life. He was open and welcoming to everyone, all the time. As I said, it is a rare gift. Throughout my life, I’ve tried to emulate certain traits or characteristics of people I respect. This is one trait I have tried very hard to incorporate into my life. I don’t come anywhere close to Clarence and I never will. But, I’m glad he set a great example for me and it’s a lesson I will never forget. In honor of Clarence, my door is open, my food is yours, and you can drink all the soda you want.
What Phill said. Also, he taught us how to make spam, egg, and cheese sandwiches, one of the most rewarding (and certainly the tastiest) lessons I’ve ever learned. I wouldn’t say he was a second father to me as our interactions weren’t really on that level. But, for a while, he made his home a second home for me. His humble hospitality was truly inspiring. Thanks, Clarence, for making our group of socially awkward misfits feel at home. And sorry for drinking a small fortune of your Wild Cherry Pepsi.
There have been a handful of people in my life that I would consider mentors. Clarence Lewis is one of those people. I first met Clarence while I was in college as his son Steven was my roommate for a semester. While I hung out at his house a few times over my last couple of years at college it wasn’t until we started working together at Randall House that I really got to know Clarence. I worked directly for him from 2003 until 2010.
Clarence gave me opportunities and tasked me with responsibilities that I may never have received otherwise. I will always be grateful that he allowed me to advance and grow in my role at Randall House. Clarence had a keen financial sense and just knew how to run a business. He showed this in his time at Lewis Letterworks, Randall House, and at Free Will Baptist Family Ministries where he finished his working career. Every place he worked was made better by his knowledge AND his wisdom. Things were not all dollars and cents with Clarence though. He truly cared about people and knew how to manage different personalities and treat everyone with respect while doing so.
I could share stories about our work together, but most people don’t want to read about fixed assets and balance sheets; so I will spare you those details. I will share a story from that happened after Clarence left Randall House. I inherited his office and his desk after his departure. As I was going through all his files and figuring out what I needed to keep and what was outdated and could be tossed I noticed a section of file folders with his handwriting on the tabs.
I assumed these files would contain something like contracts, property deeds, or other important documents. Instead, each file folder contained printed out jokes. They were categorized into the type of joke, for example, “blond jokes”, “political jokes”, “puns”, etc. It says a lot about a person who takes the time to print out and files away his jokes. That is definitely the type of person that I want to work for! I am so thankful for Clarence and that the Lord brought him into my life.
I interacted with Clarence Lewis quite a few times because his daughter Jenny married my Welch College best friend, roommate, and Rook partner, Kiley Hawkins. And I’ll never forget his speech at the rehearsal dinner of their wedding.
But one significant memory I have of him is from the summer of 1998 before I ever stepped foot on campus at Welch as a student. My home church, Horse Branch in Turbeville, SC, signed up for the Master’s Men softball tournament in Nashville for the first time ever that year. Since we were a new team he really welcomed us and made us feel like we belonged. It was above and beyond. We actually ended up playing his team from Cofer’s Chapel and they smoked us like 23-6. But we couldn’t be mad about it. Because of Clarence. It was such that when I ended up in Nashville as a student months later I knew who he was when I saw him, without any knowledge of his connection to Jenny, or Dr. Picirilli. He had that kind of impact.
This question was usually given to me after a group of people had been talking, and in the end, someone would pull me aside and ask how my brother-in-law was doing.
I can’t tell you how many times I was asked this simple, two-word question. There are so many people who really cared about him.
I am part of the Picirilli family. Specifically, I am one of the brothers-in-law. We are not blood-related. We are not in the will. We are part of the family by marriage covenant.
Jean and Clarence.
Jane and Pete.
June and Sam.
Joy and Dan.
Jill and Allen.
The five girls are a wonderful mixture of brilliance, determination, belonging, and irritation. The five guys are the same. But we all had a leader.
One of the ways that he interacted with the family is the way that many of you interacted with him as well. It was probably part of something that involved play and brackets.
Clarence organized play. Rook tournaments. Rosters for the Picirilli Bowl games. Randall House/Master’s men softball brackets. Multiple chess boards in his office.
Don’t be mistaken. Clarence was an athlete. He loved competing. But I believe that he loved something more, and that was play.
Some guys who were superb athletes in high school are not able to enjoy playing. Clarence somehow was able to make this transition to where it mattered far less that he won, and far more that he played.
Many of us realized that during softball games, or hanging around playing cards, Clarence took great joy from playing the game, and from watching us play it. And when we played it well, we would hear him call out praise and encouragement. He especially loved the intricacies of whatever sport or game that was being played and had a high appreciation for the great plays.
Parkinson’s is a thief. It robs the body of the ability to move. It steals the skills of the player and then wreaks havoc on the systems needed to live.
For years he seemed to be ok. Many of us believe that the symptoms were held at bay because of how good of an athlete he was. But when the disease came in, the progression was becoming more noticeable.
Yet he still loved to play. But now it hurt. It hurt him that he could not make the same easy plays of his youth. It hurt us to watch him. And for those who had intermittent contact, it was even more noticeable.
He wasn’t winning as much, but he was still playing.
This is when the question began in earnest. I saw him the other day and…
His balance. His drooling. His speech.
The robber had turned into a hostage-taker. The play-maker was making fewer plays, but the spirit was there. The encouragement. The smile. The cheering. But he was losing much more than he was winning.
He started falling. The keys were taken away. The house was sold and they moved into a place where they can help people who are no longer able to play the way that they used to and can help when they falter.
He had even figured out how he could play at this assisted living facility.
Clarence is better than he has ever been. The thief has been caught. The disease has been cured. The body has been restored. He is at home with the Lord, and as we all know that is better than being in the body. He is in the presence of his Savior.
I am almost sure that he has already organized something that they play in heaven.
How’s the family?
We are missing Clarence.