Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon, was no stranger to loss and grief. His beloved wife, Lillian Miles Lewis, passed away in 2012. On July 17, 2020, John Lewis passed away at the age of 80 after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2019.
Here’s what you need to know about his wife, Lillian Miles Lewis.
1. Lillian Miles Lewis Died on the 45th Anniversary of When She & John Met, After a Long Illness
Lillian Miles Lewis was 73 when she died on December 31, 2012, according to her obituary in AJC. She died at Emory University Hospital, after a long illness. She died on the 45th anniversary of when she and John Lewis met, WABE reported.
Lillian didn’t want her sickness to take the focus off the work her husband was doing, so she didn’t want him to talk about her illness publicly while she was sick.
2. She Was His Closest Political Advisor & Encouraged Him To Enter Politics in the First Place
She was not only John Lewis’ wife, she was also his good friend and his closest political advisor. Before Lillian died, she urged her husband to continue his political work, AJC reported. In fact, she was the one who encouraged him to go into politics in the first place. He was already a civil rights activist, and she urged him to go into politics to make even more changes in the world.
TV host Xernona Clayton spoke at Lillian’s funeral, reminiscing on how she helped Lillian and John meet, WABE reported. She said that after they were married, Lillian “immersed herself deeply” into John’s work and his career. “Lillian was a work horse, not a show horse,” he said.
Lillian once said that John would often talk about cutting back on his work, but he never did. She said he sometimes would joke about being carried out of the Capitol feet first, Atlanta Magazine reported. “I think that’s really how he feels about it,” she said.
3. She & John Met at a New Year’s Eve Party & Were Married a Year Later
She and John first met at a New Year’s Eve party in 1967, where friends played matchmaker for the two. They were married in 1968. Lillian said she felt like she knew him before she even met him because he was in the news so much.
You can see their wedding announcement in The New York Times here. It reads, in part: “Miss Lillian Miles, a member of the staff of the Trevor Arnett Library at Atlanta University, and John Lewis, who was chairman of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee from 1963 to 1966, plan to be married here on Dec. 21.”
4. They Always Lived in Their First Home & Had One Adopted Son
Their first home was a small home in Southwest Atlanta, and they never moved from that home, Atlanta Magazine reported. She typically stayed at their Atlanta home when he went to D.C. She said she’s not a clingy person, and she said they were both comfortable and happy with their lives.
Friend Temi Silver told AJC that Lillian was the perfect balance and contrast to John. She was “feisty” while he was gentle. In fact, when they were first married he didn’t know how to drive, so she was often his chauffer, AJC reported. Friends said Lillian was smart and loved to read.
5. Lillian Miles Lewis Was a Peace Corps Volunteer, an Educator & Worked in International Affairs
In 1960, Lillian taught a student program in Nigeria and then later became a Peace Corps volunteer, according to her obituary in AJC.
Lillian ran a contracting business and had a bachelor’s in social studies and an English minor from California State College at Los Angeles, WABE reported. She had a master’s in library sciences from the University of Southern California. She was an associate director at the Institute for International Affairs and Development at Atlanta University in the 1980s.
She was also the director of external affairs at Clark Atlanta University’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, AJC reported. She was talented, intelligent, and wore many hats. It was her dedication and passion that helped John Lewis enter politics in the first place.
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