Activist, organizer, public se rvant, avid fighter against drunk driving. Barbara Lewis was all those things. The organizer of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) group in Suwannee and Hamilton counties, Lewis passed away April 8, the day after her 68th birthday, at her sister's home after a long illness and thousands of hours of commitment to her state, her county and the victims of drunk drivers.
Lewis was named several years ago by the national MADD office as one of 20 people across America who made a difference, was an avid volunteer for MADD. Not only did she organize the local group, but one in Hamilton County also. She was a tireless volunteer who never knew any limits when it came to her passion of volunteering with MADD.
A victim of a drunk driver herself, Lewis suffered severe injuries in an accident in Alabama when her truck was hit on a winding mountainside. Riding with Lewis that day were her four nieces who she and her parents were raising after their mother had been killed in a domestic violence incident. All were critically injured. Lewis carried the results of those injuries with her until the day she died. A broken hip in that accident, coupled with Scoliosis of the spine, led her to spend her life unable to straighten up and in the last few years, she used a walker, and later a wheel chair. Still, it never deterred her from going to court to be with families at trials who had lost loved ones to drunk drivers or from going to the homes of the victims to comfort their families, with little regard for her own health. Regardless of how much pain Lewis felt, she kept her commitments to hold candlelight services for victims of drunk drivers, participate in traffic blockades by law enforcement to look for drunk drivers or to hold MADD Victim Impact Panels where convicted drunk drivers were required by the courts to attend and listen to this humble Christian woman talk about her life being changed by a drunk driver. The defendants also had to face families of many who were killed by drunk drivers and see them show photos of their beloved one as they told of the tragedy and how it had effected their lives. Many tears were shed in the programs by the families and often by the defendants. Lewis once told a reporter that after one of these programs, a man who had been charged with DUI and was required to attend came to her and thanked her for what she was doing.
Lewis was heavily involved in the state MADD activities and participated in many of its activities at the state level until her health simply would no longer allow her to travel. She groomed many people over the years to carry on the MADD programs in Suwannee and Hamilton counties, knowing the day would come when she could not. She had no vehicle and had to depend upon friends and relatives to get her to events. Her friends and family stepped up to the plate.
"She was a real strong advocate for folks who were injured as a result of drunk drivers," said Suwannee County Judge Bill Slaughter. "She was the driving force that got us to start doing the Victim Impact Panels here in Suwannee County. That has really been an extremely effective part of the DUI sentencing," he said. Judge Slaughter said Lewis was a driving force not only here in Suwannee County, but statewide. "She will be missed," he said. "She was committed, and that's putting it mildly," he added. "Some of the responses from those required to attend the Victim Impact Panels have told us it was a real eye opener, that they didn't think about the damage that could be caused as a result of their drunk driving until they went to this meeting." Judge Slaughter said in the beginning when Lewis proposed having the Victim Impact Panels, he wasn't sure it would work. He said he soon found it was one of the best tools he had ever seen for dealing with DUI drivers.
Judge Slaughter said Lewis was a dynamo of energy in her work for MADD. "You couldn't say no to Barbara Lewis," Judge Slaughter agreed. The judge said he hopes her work will continue on as it's had a huge impact in his court.
A Lake City native, Lewis moved to Suwannee County from Addison, Al years ago to make her home near her sister, Jennie Lee. "She planned her own funeral," said Lee of Lewis. "It's not going to be a funeral, it's going to be a party!" Lee said Lewis requested balloons instead of flowers and lots of music and cheerfulness to celebrate her homegoing.
Lewis was a member of the Apostolic Church in Wellborn.
Services for Lewis were conducted Tuesday, April 12, at First Baptist Church of Branford at 2 p.m. with the Rev. Billy Davis, the Rev. Bryan Jones, the Rev. Richard Whitman and Eric Lewis officiating. Interment was in Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church Cemetery in McAlpin. The family requests that those wishing to make a donation in her memory make it to MADD, attention: Suwannee County, 833 A.E. Park Ave., Tallahassee, Fl 32031.