MILTON — Santa Rosa County Commissioners honored former Mayor and City Councilman R. L. Lewis at their Feb. 26 meeting.
It was a fitting tribute for a man with a history of African American “firsts” during Black History Month.
Commissioners extended their appreciation for his leadership and dedicated service to citizens of the county. Lewis served as a Milton city councilman for 32 years.
On Oct. 10, 2014, Lewis made history when he was sworn in as the city’s first black mayor. This was made possible by the resignation of former Mayor Guy Thompson just four days before Mayor-Elect Wesley Meiss’ term started.
“I will act like its 1,000 days instead of the four,” Lewis said of his four days as mayor.
Lewis had several careers after his honorable discharge from the Army. He retired from the Monsanto Company and left his councilman position after 32 years with each organization. He started his current career in the funeral industry 40 years ago and is chairman of the deacon board at Mt. Zion Primitive Baptist Church.
Lewis has held several positions and received awards never obtained by African Americans in Northwest Florida.
He was the first African American on the Florida Highway Patrol Auxiliary to retire as sergeant. The first councilman in Santa Rosa County to receive the God in Government Award 2015 and the first councilman in Northwest Florida to receive the Volunteer Service Award from the President of the United States in 2010.
Although he is recognized for achievements as an African American, Lewis is most proud of his work with the Base Realignment and Closure committee to keep NAS Whiting Field open.
Lewis is described as a generous man with a big heart who does not distinguish people by the color of their skin.
“It is somewhat ironic that he is colorblind in that sense because his color is what made him stand out in the best way,” Raymond Johns said about his friend. “He is an excellent example for anyone who feels as though their ancestry may restrict them. It does not have to.”
Lewis said he was honored by the appreciation from the County Commission.
“I will always treasure this award to the depths of my heart,” Lewis said.