Honoring two warriors for inclusion

Johnson City Press • Jan 20, 2019 at 7:00 AM

Johnson City lost two of its dedicated citizens within days of one another last week, bringing an outpouring of emotional tributes.

Deservedly so.

By all accounts, Mary Alexander and Dr. Angela Radford Lewis were tremendously respected for their commitment to building a sense of community.

Alexander filled many roles over the years, notably as the first black woman to serve on the Washington County Commission. She will be remembered more, however, for her unwavering efforts toward preserving Johnson City’s black heritage and her devotion to the city as a whole.

Among our most memorable interactions with Alexander was in the early 1990s when she served on the Johnson City Planning Commission’s task force for finding sites for the city’s new schools. She had one goal in mind: making sure the locations did not place undue burdens on families.

Here at the Press, we relied on Alexander not only as a primary source for articles, but also for her counsel on many matters. Her perspectives were truly valuable.

These words offered in the memoriams on Birchette Mortuary’s website offered another glimpse at what Alexander meant to people:

“Mary was a strong pillar to our community, but I hold a special place in my heart for this strong warrior. I will never forget the words she said to me when my sister passed away several years ago. She felt my grief and pain then she gave me the strongest hug. She whispered in my ear and said, ‘Remember when you have done all you could do, just stand and hold your head up high.’ I can't tell you how many times her words have resonated in my mind, and carried me through. I pray these word will give the family comfort as well” — Lee and Lydia Bridwell.

Like Alexander, Lewis was a woman whose personable manner resonated with people. The longtime East Tennessee educator and administrator had successfully battled breast cancer but died unexpectedly Friday morning after undergoing brain surgery.

The sudden loss left many at ETSU reeling.

“Every so often, we meet someone whose spirit, joy, and love of life empowers you to be a better person. Dr. Angela Radford Lewis was one of those people,” Joe Smith, ETSU’s primary spokesman, wrote on his Facebook page. “I had the honor of being her friend for many years at ETSU. We laughed together. We encouraged each other. When darkness surrounded either of us, we prayed together. Her unexpected death this morning has devastated our campus and this community.”

Lewis had been the subject of one of our “Five Questions” features only weeks before her passing. In her latest role, she had hoped to provide leadership for campus diversity and inclusion efforts, which she described as “two major pillars of ETSU’s strategic plan.”

Alexander and Lewis were pioneers for Johnson City. They knew the importance of inclusion in society and stepped up to lead.

They will be missed.

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