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VOL. 116 | NO. 134 | Friday, July 12, 2002

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Unfailing spirit

Abundant energy and spirit

By SUE PEASE

The Daily News

Sandy Lewis retired almost 7 years ago, but youd never know it.

First of all, retiring is not a word that would describe her energetic, positive and lively fit much better.

When she retired from St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital, Lewis thought life would slow down and allow her to take up hobbies such as piano and sewing, and devote time to well, doing pretty much nothing.

It hasnt worked out quite that way.

(Nothing) was not my forte, Lewis said with a laugh.

Instead, community causes have filled her schedule, keeping her busy planning fund-raising events. She also serves on many nonprofit organization boards and frankly, works hard to help others.

Those are some reasons why the National Conference for Community and Justice recently presented her with the 2002 Humanitarian Award.

According to the NCCJ, Sandy is truly making Memphis a better place for all of us, not just some of us.

Looking at a list of the many groups she volunteers for, the statement holds true.

The organizations she supports are many and far-reaching.

In the past, she served on boards for the NCCJ, the Baron Hirsch Synagogue, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Memphis Symphony League. She currently is a board member of Opera Memphis, Sandy Vogel Lewis Neighborhood House Day Care Center, the Marguerite Piazza-St. Jude Gala and the Memphis Cancer Foundation.

Lewis, 66, began her passion for volunteering before she retired from St. Jude, where she worked for 28 years and was national executive secretary to the ALSCAC/St. Jude board. She loved the work and the people she worked with closely, including entertainer and hospital founder, Danny Thomas.

I think he has left the greatest legacy that anybody has left to the world the whole world, Lewis said.

(St. Jude) has to be the most dedicated group of individuals I have worked with. It was just a phenomenal place.

And, the work gave her insights into what she is doing now.

For Lewis, raised in Memphis and attending Central High School and the University of Memphis, getting involved in causes before she retired gave her a taste of what it feels like to be a volunteer. Since then, the momentum has only quickened.

And volunteering is the key to keeping her high-energy momentum going, she said.

I think that is the secret retired or not retired you must have interests. Otherwise, you tend to focus on yourself, but there is always something to do for somebody else, she said.

Today, one of her main interests is the Memphis Cancer Foundation board, where she serves as chairwoman.

She became involved in the foundation after meeting Dr. Kirby Smith. He was her oncologist during her struggle with breast cancer in 1989. He also started the foundation.

While her cancer is in remission now, the experience with the disease put more energy into her subsequent days, she said.

I think what cancer does for you is it makes you realize how important every day is, Lewis said.

And even more important than her volunteerism is her family.

Her four children, five grandchildren and husband take priority over everything.

Visitors to her house can immediately tell where the family rates. While her immaculate home is beautifully decorated in soft pastels and everything in its perfect place, one corner of her living room overflows with piled up board games awaiting a visit from the grandchildren.

But Lewis doesnt mind. Thats exactly how she likes it.

I guess Im selfish. I cant get enough of the kids and grandkids. When they are all here with me and I look around the room, I would say my life is complete.

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