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A passion for life

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When he’s not sitting quietly with his cat, visiting with his neighbor or singing in church, Ray Lewis enjoys writing letters on his computer at home. (Curtis Michaels Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Ray Lewis is a slim, unassuming gentleman from the Greatest Generation. He turned 99 Saturday. His eyes are clear, his smile is ready and over the course of his life, he has had a number of passions. Born Aug. 4, 1919, in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, Lewis grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey. He had a knack for numbers, so he got a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics. “Even though I majored in math in college,” he said, “I didn’t really find any use for it since I didn’t pursue a degree in engineering.”

The education didn’t take him down the path one might expect of a math major. However, it did help to define his life, and it brought him many unique opportunities along the way.

Lewis was inducted into the Army during World War II. He was with the 99th infantry division. “I spent 11 years in the military,” he said. “I started immediately after my college graduation in 1941.” Like most draftees, he started off as a private.

Toward the end of basic training, he was sent to Officer’s Candidate School. He spent the rest of the war as a second lieutenant, known among the troops as cannon fodder. He earned his Purple Heart on the Western front just before the war ended. “The 99th was primarily involved in the battle of the bulge. That’s where I got wounded. I spent two months in the hospital.

“I stayed in the army until the Korean war ended,” he said. “I was assigned to assemble atomic weapons. In the 1950-’51 timeframe, we were prepared to go to war against the Soviet Union. Those weapons I was involved in the assembly of would have been used to bomb the Soviet Union. I worked in the Eastern Mountains of Albuquerque in what we called the Catacombs. They ran all around under the mountains.” He left the Army as a captain.

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In Albuquerque, Lewis took a job with Sandia Corporation, now known as Sandia Labs. He spent much of his time there working as a technical writer. “I was a technical writer for 17 years,” he said. “I wrote about equipment used by the Sandia Corporation. It helped the workers to understand the equipment they had. The company needed a technical writer. I’ve always liked to write. I was educated in scientific matters with my math degree. I fit into the typical writing business easily. I taught technical writing at the University of New Mexico for a while.”

In 1970, at 50 years old, Lewis decided to make some changes. He got his small aircraft license and took himself on trips around the country. When he was home in Albuquerque, Lewis would make a living with real estate. “I was self-employed,” he said. “I bought old houses in Albuquerque, renovated and sold them. I made a profit on each one and that kept me going.”

He continued the prop-set life of a real estate investor until shortly after his wife died in 1984. By that time, Albuquerque was getting too big for his taste. “I came to Roswell about 34 years ago,” he said. “After having lived in Albuquerque, the traffic and population got to be too much. It made me look for a smaller place to live. Roswell fit the bill.”

Living in Roswell, Lewis enjoys a slower life. Until two years ago, he planted trees and maintained a garden on his property. His knees have forced him to curtail a great deal of his outdoor pleasures, however. “I love my trees,” he said. “I think I have about eight of them — three of them are out front here.”

His current passion is singing in his church. “My primary activity involves the church,” he said. “I sang in the choir for 20 years and in recent months I’ve been singing solos. I’m going to sing The Lord’s Prayer on the 5th. I sing bass. I can sing as low as C below Middle C. The music director likes it.”

Lewis found his church family by happenstance. “In 1997, I needed to buy a newer car,” he said. “There was one for sale by the country club that I went to look at. I decided to buy it. The home was the home of the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church. That’s how I met them and decided to join the church.”

It’s now where he can find most of his friends. “I have many friends that keep me going,” he said. He likes how they’ve been there for him. “After I survived surgery for a burst appendix,” he said, “I was in the hospital in Artesia. Randy came to see me twice.”

He still follows his beloved UNM Lobos basketball team every day, but his greatest passion is a simple one. As Lewis puts it, “my greatest passion is still being alive at the age of 99.”