By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Christmas was always the most special, magical time of the year for Runston “Pop” Lewis. It meant family, gratitude and love. At no time were those gems more apparent than last December 25.
Celebrating the occasion in pajamas hand crafted by his granddaughter, Cheryl, Lewis, “Pop” joined his daughter Linda Lewis-Burger, grandchildren and great grandchildren a little over three months ago, having the time of his life. Smiling, laughing, and just generally loving life, Lewis was imbibing every morsel of Christmas, a holiday that held a special place in his heart. This one, recollected by his daughter Linda, will be elevated to a whole other plane.
A couple of weeks after, her father would be diagnosed with Leukemia, receive several rounds of chemotherapy, experience an ensuing bad kidney reaction and then test positive for COVID 19 in March. Last Wednesday, April 1, the well-known, altruistic businessman and community legend Lewis passed away from what was likely a weakened immune system, incapable of fighting off the deadly virus.
Born on January 22, 1934 in Dutchess County and raised in an impoverished household by a hard-working single mother, Lewis was to later move to Newburgh as a youth with his mother and seven siblings where he was to spend the remainder of his years. Despite the many hardships he encountered growing up, the strong-willed Lewis, a champion for the power of education, earned his Master’s Degree in social work from Fordham University. The proud father of three children: Karen Tucker, Michael T. Lewis, and Linda Lewis-Burger, Lewis was an unforgettable, dynamic City of Newburgh entrepreneur, who left an indelible mark on the Liberty Street section.
The owner of Pop’s Paradise, Liberty Street Laundromat and Pop’s Liquor Store, the crafty Lewis also teamed up with several friends, forming Brave New Focus, a group that renovated and owned both individual and cooperation properties and businesses. In addition to his plentiful and lofty business pursuits, Lewis took on another pivotal role: Newburgh Enlarged City School District Board Member for 22 years, 12 of which he served as its President. In fact, even after his formal departure from the Board, he continued to be actively involved, even up until last year. Serving on various committees and attending meetings, he regularly met with the Superintendent of Schools and others while playing another key role.
“My father kept documents forever, so whenever the Board needed anything, he was likely to still have it,” recalled his daughter Lewis-Burger. “His involvement with the Newburgh School Board really kept him going because he cared so much for the children and the community.”
Lewis’ passion for his community extended beyond the schools. A member of the Board of the Glenn E. Hines Boys & Girls Club, Lewis also was on the St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital Board of Trustees. On his own, Lewis further enhanced his Newburgh Community, holding annual “Most Experienced Senior” Award Dinners at Anthony’s Pier 9 as well as complimentary “Family Day” events in the park. Lewis paid for all the expenses himself.
“My father was a very generous, kind man who had a huge heart,” explained Lewis-Burger. “He used it to champion for children and education, especially because he came from a tough background, so he knew things were not always easy; he also had a special love for the seniors and making sure they were recognized for all that they contributed.”
Perhaps at no time was the measure of that heart as evident as in the last five years. Back in 2015, Lewis was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was a wake-up call in some ways for the already giving, loving man to further extend his compassion and talents.
“Our family was so very blessed we had him with us for the last five years,” said Lewis-Burger. “During this time, he really nurtured and strengthened all of his family relationships even more, while continuing to work with the Newburgh Enlarged City School District Board.”
Losing their loving patriarch in the wake of the pandemic has been especially challenging, as only a small service was held. However, just as Runston “Pop” Lewis provided so much to so many during his life, his family too intends to do the very same, fully honoring his life, when the moment becomes available.
“Those who knew my father know he enjoyed his life to the very fullest as well as the folks who were in his community,” pointed out Lewis-Burger. “We understand we are not the only ones going through a loss during these difficult times, but because of our Christianity and strong faith, we look forward to celebrating his life, complete with hugging and lots of laughing, and enjoying the so many happy and fond memories he left for us to treasure.”