John Lewis, the iconic civil rights activist, died on July 17, 2020, at the age of 80 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2019. He had already lost his wife, Lillian Miles Lewis, in 2012. Her cause of death was a long illness that was never publicly discussed.
Here’s what you need to know:
She Didn’t Want John Lewis To Talk Publicly About Her Illness & Take the Focus Away from His Work
Specific details about Lillian Miles Lewis’ cause of death were not shared publicly when she died. In fact, Lewis had never wanted her illness to take the focus away from her husband’s work and activism.
In January 2013, her close friend Xernona Clayton told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Lewis simply had not wanted her illness to overshadow her husband’s work.
Clayton said: “She’d kind of get on him about telling people she was sick. She didn’t want that to be the focus. She wanted him to do his work.”
In fact, Lewis had always been a fierce supporter of her husband, WABE reported. At her funeral, Clayton said: “She immersed herself deeply into everything he wanted to do. She gave her talent, her energy, her counsel and her fundraising ability to meet John’s needs. … Lillian was a work horse not a show horse.”
Although her specific cause of death wasn’t shared when she died, Clayton did reveal that Lewis had been ill for quite a long time and had died at the age of 73 at Emory University Hospital.
She Died on the 45th Anniversary of When They First Met
Lillian Lewis died on New Year’s Eve 2012, the 45th anniversary of when she and John Lewis had met, WABE reported. She had longtime health issues and had been hospitalized before she died, the Associated Press reported, adding that donations could be made in her memory to the American Kidney Fund.
Lillian Lewis taught in Nigeria in 1960 and then was a Peace Corps volunteer there for two additional years before meeting John Lewis in 1967, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. They were at a party at Clayton’s home for New Year’s Eve. The two married in 1968.
Clayton told the AJC about the pairing: “I figured he needed a partner like Lillian, and Lillian needed someone who was moving into such important areas. She was a sober-minded, level-headed intellectual.”
Lewis continued her own career while her husband was a political activist. She had a bachelor’s in social studies and an English minor from California State College at Los Angeles. She had a master’s in library sciences from the University of Southern California. From 1989 to 2003, she was the director of external affairs for the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Clark Atlanta University, the AJC reported.
Nearly eight years after the death of Lillian Miles Lewis, her husband John Lewis died at the age of 80.
Lillian Miles Lewis is buried at South View Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia. Her funeral was at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
John Lewis and Lillian Miles Lewis had one son: John-Miles Lewis. John and Lillian Lewis adopted John-Miles in 1976 when he was just two months old. John Lewis said he fell in love with his son the very first time he saw him.
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