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Brunswick County honors former manager Jerry Lewis with building name

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By Brian Slattery

Brunswick County officials will honor the first modern-era county manager, Jerry Lewis, by dedicating a government building in his name.

In 1970, Lewis was the county commission’s selection to re-implement the county manager form of government. The county stopped hiring managers in 1929 and let commissioners handle operations.

Alan Lewis said at the time his father stepped in as county manager he was working as a private engineering consultant. The family also ran two Lewis’ Department Stores in Shallotte—all while raising five kids.

“He was tapped to be county manager, the full board wanted him to take the job,” Alan Lewis said.

Jerry Lewis oversaw the creation of the county water system.

“Prior to that, there was no water system; everyone relied on wells for drinking water,” Alan Lewis said. “On the beaches, because of salt water intrusion, their ice would have a salty taste.”

Long Beach and Yaupon Beach—which now make up Oak Island—Holden Beach, Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach petitioned the county for a water system, Alan Lewis said.

Alan Lewis said his father had to take on a challenge, beginning with developing a groundwater treatment plant along N.C. 211 near Southport.

Between 1970-1973 two-dozen large wells were built near where St. James Plantation is now. About a million gallons a day were treated at the plant, then pumped to communities along the coast.

“They pumped it to the beach where it went under the Intracoastal Waterway and traversed (Oak) Island,” Alan Lewis said. “It crossed the Lockwood Folly inlet to Holden Beach where an elevated storage tank was built near the bridge. The system followed Highway 130 to Shallotte, then down Highway 179 to Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach, then later, to Calabash.”

“It was the first backbone to the fledgling water system,” Alan Lewis explained.

Jerry Lewis also helped recruit Phizer (now ADM) and CP&L (now Progress Energy) to Brunswick County.

Alan Lewis said his father stayed active in the county’s continued development of the water system after he left the manager’s office. He worked as a consultant and helped get grants and other sources of funding.

His work in Brunswick County led to Republican Gov. James Holshouser appointing Lewis to the North Carolina Environmental Management System, a position he was reappointed to by Democrat Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. and Republican Gov. James G. Martin.

“His appointment by Republican and Democratic governors speaks to his character. He wanted to help our state,” Alan Lewis said.

During his term as manager, Jerry Lewis was instrumental in moving the county administration from Southport to Bolivia to what is now known as the county government complex, Alan Lewis said.

Jerry Lewis intended to become an engineer from an early age, but knowing he couldn’t afford the cost on his own, he enlisted, serving in the Korea War.

With the G.I. Bill, Jerry Lewis attended North Carolina State University in 1948 and earned an industrial engineering degree in 1952.

It’s a tradition followed by Alan Lewis and his son, Christopher, who both earned civil engineering degrees from the university.

Jerry Lewis spent 12 years in the Winston-Salem area working for Western Electric before the family moved back to Brunswick County.

“By 27 years old he was a supervising engineer (overseeing) 250 engineers. He also developed several patents, which was one of his most proud accomplishments,” Alan Lewis said.

Alan Lewis’ company, East Coast Engineering and Surveying, is an offshoot of his father’s consulting firm, Lewis and Associates.

Even after his dad “retired” in 1987, he stayed busy in Brunswick County. Jerry Lewis served on the Brunswick County Health Board, the Hospital Authority that recruited Novant Healthcare to operate the county hospital, and the South Brunswick Water and Sewer Authority board.

Living up to his father’s example, Alan Lewis has spent his life in public service. He has been a Shallotte alderman and interim mayor and a Brunswick County Planning board member.

His siblings have also carried on their father’s work ethic.

Jerry Lewis had three daughters—Sharon Hornaday, who works for Wake County, Melanie Evans, a Raleigh pharmacist, and Allison Bowman, who is also an N.C. State-educated civil engineer.

His son, J.D. Lewis Jr., is an aerospace consultant, and the youngest, Scott, is assistant director of the North Brunswick Water and Sewer Authority.

Jerry Lewis’ first wife, Mary Elizabeth “Bobbie” Lewis, died in 1998. He married Elizabeth Wescott Lewis.

Jerry Lewis died in August 2012. After his death, former county commissioners’ chairman Bill Sue contacted the family with the intention of dedicating the Public Utilities Operation Center to him.

On Nov. 5, 2012, family members attended the commissioners’ meeting to receive the proclamation approving the dedication.

At 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, county commissioners will host the official dedication ceremony for the Brunswick County Public Utilities Operation Center in Jerry Lewis’ name. The operation center is at 250 Gray Water Road SE, Supply.

 

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.