It was rather obvious that Bill Lewis was destined for a career in medicine when, as a fifth grader, my classmate won the overall Science Fair at Forest High School. His experiment? Bill made injections into a chicken to change its sex. Even though Bill has explained the “procedure” to me several times during the years, I still find it hard to believe, much less understand!
I just knew that one day Bill would become a brain surgeon at an esteemed hospital in Boston, New York or some other big city.
But surprisingly that was not the path Bill chose, as will be explained later in this column.
So, when did Bill know he wanted a career in medicine?
According to an article by Gennie Phillips (Taylor) in the Oct. 1, 2003, issue of The Scott County Times, Bill stated, “Ohh…me wanting to become a doctor goes way back, probably to the fifth grade.”
And who inspired him to make such a decision at an early age?
“I always enjoyed watching (the late) Dr. David Lee, who was our family physician,” Phillips wrote. “He was a true inspiration to me.”
In addition to excelling academically in preparing for medical studies, Bill was a superb drummer in the FHS Band and for a popular rock ‘n’ band named The Webs. The Webs performed throughout the Southeast for dances in small (including Forest) and large cities and other venues. (I can still remember watching them perform for a dance at the National Guard Armory in Forest. They were very talented.)
Bill begin performing with the group during the second semester of our junior year. During the summer that followed, Bill grew his hair long to better “fit” with the times as a rock ‘n’ roll drummer.
At the beginning of our senior year in 1970, Bill’s long auburn hair was not in compliance with rules as set forth by the Forest School Board of Trustees.
The school board policy regarding hair styles, as stated in a fall 1970 issue of The Scott County Times by my late father (Erle Johnston), read as follows: “Boys will be permitted to style their hair, provided it does not come to the normal collar line in the back, does not cover any part of the ears, and is above the eyebrows. Sideburns must come no longer than the lobe of the ear with the rest of the face clean-shaven.”
So, to comply with the board policy and continue his studies toward graduation and an eventual medical degree, Bill worked out a comprise “acceptable” with then Supt. L. O. Atkins and the school board.
As my father stated, Bill “was one of the most talented young drummers in the state and has been playing with a band since the fifth grade. He worked with The Road Runners, Soul and Spirit, and Dog River Breakdown prior to joining The Webs, based in Jackson.
But for some reason, the “compromise” was cancelled by school officials and Bill was dismissed from school.
The first thing that came to my mind at his dismissal was, “Are they crazy? Bill will be a famous brain surgeon one day and will never return to Forest.”
All I ever heard about Bill’s dismissal from school, was that he caused a “distraction” during class. Maybe so, but the attention he received was probably less than the attention caused by pretty girls in class! After all, the reason we guys had long hair was to look cool for the girls. We certainly did not want to cause trouble or overthrow the school!
Anyhow, Bill was kicked out of school, missing his senior year and of course, graduation.
Bill continued playing with “The Webs” and earning good money for college expenses.
So, how did Bill enter college without a degree?
Simple, Bill made a high score on the ACT and was admitted to Mississippi State University in Starkville. He left the band to concentrate on his studies.
Then tragedy happened during his sophomore year, as both his parents (Lois Earl and Aileen Lewis) lost their lives in a drowning incident on family property in Smith County.
It was obviously a very dark period for Bill, his brother John, and their sister, Karen.
But Bill kept his focus and continued to excel in his studies at MSU.
He took the MCAT (medical school entrance test) following his junior year and scored high enough to be acceptable into the University of Mississippi Medical School. He received a bachelor’s degree after three years of college work.
Also in 1975, Bill married longtime girlfriend, the former Cindy Bingham of Newton.
Bill’s first interest in returning to Forest to practice medicine came early in his third year of medical school in 1978, when he was scheduled to do a rotation in rural family medicine “to see what country doctors do,” as he explained.
He came to Forest and spent two weeks with Dr. John Paul Lee. Bill said Dr. Lee “was overwhelmed with patients essentially worked all the time. Like his patients, I was impressed by Dr. Lee. We discussed me coming back to join him after my training.”
After receiving his MD from University of Mississippi Medical School in 1979, Bill started a three-year residency in Jackson. He also took over the job of booking emergency room doctors for the weekends in Forest. He also “booked himself” to work a lot in Forest during his residency.
Bill well remembers the day he began working with Dr. Lee.
“The last minute of the last day of residency in 1982, I handed over my on-call pager and drove to Forest, got out of my car and started seeing patients with Dr. Lee.”
I well remember that day as well, as Bill’s first days in Forest made front page news in the July 7, 1982, issue of our then family-owned Scott County Times.
In my Editor’s Notebook column was penned, “A hearty welcome back to classmate Dr. Bill Lewis and wife Cindy who have recently moved to Forest. Dr. Lewis will be associated with Dr. John Paul Lee in the practice of family medicine.” A photo of Bill and Cindy also appeared on the front page.
And yes, how often did I think about Bill’s dismissal from school because of long hair (how silly), how devastating it was to lose his parents on the same day, and the other challenges he faced to achieve his goals!
Not only did Bill want to come to Forest, he wanted his residency parter, Dr. Archie Howard, to join him but he was unable to do so at first because Dr. Howard wanted to start a solo practice in Morton.
“It took a year, but I finally convinced Dr. Howard to join us, and we have all three been together since,” commented Dr. Lewis.
Regarding the partnership, Dr. Lewis stated: “I feel quite fortunate to have spent my entire career with Dr. Lee and Dr. Howard. I could not have asked for better partners. In my retirement, I will miss our day-to-day discussions about matters medical and otherwise.”
During an interview with assistant editor Gennie Phillips (Taylor) published in the Oct. 1, 2003, issue of the SCT, Dr. Lewis, who had been with Forest Family Practice for 21 years, stated the reasons he came to Forest and has continued to stay is because of the “outstanding community support.”
He explained that practicing medicine is a “constant challenge” and “it’s fun to learn new medical advancements.”
“I truly enjoy preventive medicine,” Lewis stated. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Lewis’ interaction with patients was also highlighted in Gennie’s article.
“The feeling of being able to help now and then is very important,” said Dr. Lewis.
During our interview for this article, Dr. Lewis was asked about the “highs” and “lows” of his career.
“Any doctor will tell you that the high points of a career are the times that you felt like you helped someone. The low part of medicine now seems to be the endless paperwork and forms for government and insurance. It is no secret that most of ‘doctoring’ now is filling out forms and entering data into computers. I will not miss that.”
On a personal note, I will always be grateful to Dr. Lewis for the wonderful care and concern he provided my late parents (Erle and Fay Johnston), who often expressed appreciation for his compassionate care and always pleasing bedside manner. Dr. Lewis is also known for his diagnostic abilities and never gave up trying to discover the reason and treatment for someone’s ailment.
So, what are the plans for Dr. Bill Lewis after he retires, effective Dec. 31, 2020?
“I look forward to spending retirement time with Cindy, my wife of 45 years. Our son, Zach, is a teacher and aspiring writer in New York City. We plan to get together more with him in our retirement.”
Dr. Lewis also plans to continue his “hobby” as a drummer for a popular local group, Duck Gumbo. He had not picked up “the sticks” since leaving The Webs until the FHS Class of 1971 held its 15th Class Reunion and invited The Roadrunners to perform. The group was formed during our junior high school days and included Eric Measells (vocals), Joe Townsend (guitar), Clark Gordin (guitar and back-up vocals), Bill and me (bass guitar/back-up vocals). The Roadrunners performed again for our 40th Class Reunion in 2011. Dave Gibson, now deceased, was added to the group as a keyboard player. Bill continues to have long hair but the style is different and the color is no longer auburn!
Regarding his long and distinguished career in medicine, Dr. Lewis stated, “I would like to thank all the people that have put their trust in me over the years. I always tried to do what I thought was best for them.”
And yes he was successful in doing just that!
Thank you, Dr. Bill Lewis, for your service to Forest, Scott County and the surrounding area. You will be missed!