Archive for September, 2008

Annie May

I love Annie May Lewis.  She was one of those ladies that exude strength yet display a level of kindness and gentleness only the Spirit of God could provide.  Today is Sept 11, 2008.  While remembering those that were lost in the Twin Towers without choice, those that raced in and back out becoming heroes, and those that voluntarily lost their lives becoming martyrs, I remember one like them.  My mind was drawn to her.  An extraordinary and long life.  These are the words of Don Meredith on another memorable day in March of 2006.

Annie May Lewis
Read at her memorial service
March 14, 2006

I knew Annie May Lewis for a little over 46 years, during which time she filled several roles in my life: supervisor of a student worker, fellow student, boss, professional colleague, fellow teacher, mentor, Christian friend, and surrogate mother.  I hope to share with you some aspects of her life that illustrate what a truly outstanding person she was.  Many of you have your own Annie May stories and some of you, particularly women, have shared those with me and I will pass a few of these along to you.

Professionally Annie May was a librarian and teacher.  She graduated from Harding College in 1939 with a degree in English and taught in public schools for a few years during which time she completed a BS degree in library science from Peabody.

Dr. George Benson asked her to come to Harding in 1944 to teach English.  She preferred a position in the library, but there was not an opening so she accepted the invitation to teach English since she had concluded from her college days that Searcy, Arkansas, was heaven on earth.

In 1947 she became head librarian and worked tirelessly (many times 10 hours a day) to improve the quality of the library.  A few years later when Harding received its accreditation, the library received the highest praise from the visitation team.  During these years in the summers she worked on and completed an M.A. degree at the University of Chicago in 1952.

After her father died, Annie May took a leave of absence from Harding to be with her mother.  When the librarian who had been hired to replace her left, Dr. Benson again invited her back to Harding as the librarian and she served in that capacity from 1956 to 1962.  She was always a fierce advocate for the library and its funding and was usually successful in getting what she asked for.  One Harding administrator said, “Just let her have what she wants; she’ll get it sooner or later anyway.”

She feared no one when it came to her library advocacy.  One of her favorite stories relates her encounter with a Harding faculty member, probably in his early 40’s, who taught in the graduate Bible program.  W. B. West, the head of the program, had sent him to the library to choose those books that would be moved from the Searcy library to the new program to begin in Memphis.  When Annie May saw him at the card catalog and learned what he was doing, she told him that he should go back to his office.  So this young Harvard Ph.D. by the name of Jack Lewis did just that.

Annie May worked hard and expected those who worked with her to do the same.  She was certainly never hesitant to let you know when you needed to modify your behavior or attitude, and there was never any doubt who was in charge.  But she was also kind and concerned about her employees and served as a mentor to several that ultimately became librarians.

In 1962 after several invitations from W. B. West, Annie May agreed to come to Memphis to become the librarian at HUGSR.  She answered God’s call to leave heaven on earth to come to Memphis.  She took a course in theological bibliography at the University of Chicago in the summer 1961 to better prepare herself for this new role.

Annie May had accepted a unique position.  She became the first theological librarian in the churches of Christ and was entrusted with the responsibility to build from scratch a quality theological collection to support a theological graduate program.  She attacked this project with the same hard work and determination that had characterized her tenure at Searcy.  She put in long hours to systematically build the library.

She was the first member of the churches of Christ to become a member of the American Theological Library Association, the national organization for theological librarians.  She attended its annual meetings and developed relationships with theological librarians from those little schools like Duke, Princeton, and Yale.  These contacts were immensely helpful to her in learning what to add to the collection and how to get these materials.  She also was not hesitant to ask for materials from them and many of her library contacts were very helpful in securing resources.  She developed a friendship with a librarian who had a personal 3,000 volume library of Restoration materials and convinced him that he should sell it to the HUGSR library when he retired.  He did.
Of course she also had to convince Dr. Benson to allocate the money for the purchase.  She did.

To become familiar with the subject area, Annie May enrolled in the Masters program at HUGSR and took courses while working full time as librarian.  She completed the program in 1967 and graduated with only 3 B’s, two of those under a professor named Jack P. Lewis.

When Annie May came to Memphis, the HUGSR library contained only about 5,000 volumes and subscribed to only 82 periodicals.  When she retired in 1983, it had almost 69,000 volumes and received 582 periodicals.

I never had Annie May as a teacher, but all the testimony I have suggests that she was a great one.  When Dr. Benson announced that she was leaving the classroom at Harding to become librarian, Betty Bates had the moxie (I know that’s hard to believe) to express her displeasure to him over his taking the best teacher at Harding out of the class room. Of course Dr. Benson’s decision prevailed.

Annie May developed a course in the late 1960’s for all students at HUGSR to improve their writing and research skills.  As her assistant I saw how hard she worked on this class and how concerned she was to help the students.  When she retired, she passed this course on to me and I still use some of the notes she left behind.  Because of her work, HUGSR is still one of the few seminaries that offer such a required course.

Annie May taught ladies’ classes at this church for many years.  Those who attended these classes can testify to her teaching skills, to the amount of preparation she put into these classes, and to how she blessed their lives through her teaching.  Betty Copeland inherited her Sunday morning class, and Annie May passed on to her some of the notes she used in her classes. These all were packed with information and reflect the amount of study she put into each lesson.

Annie May loved the Bible and felt that it should be the center of any Sunday school class.  One day recently while sitting with her, Betty Copeland overheard Annie May say, “Books, books everywhere, but there’s really only one book.”  She studied and read the Bible and instilled in others a love for it and a desire to study it. As many of the ladies who sat with her recently know, she frequently asked them to read from the Bible, particularly the Psalms.  When asked if her class last Sunday would spend its time reflecting on and reminiscing about Annie May, Betty said no. They would spend the time studying Hebrews.  She did not want to be haunted for “wasting” that Bible study time.  Through her teaching and mentoring, Annie May developed a multitude of daughters of faith.

You were greatly blessed if you were one of Annie May’s boys, and she had several.  She was a great encourager and your best advocate.  My Dad once asked me if I had an agent or publicist at the Graduate School since I seemed to be mentioned (sometimes with pictures) frequently in the HUGSR bulletin. Of course I told him it was Annie May’s doings.  She arranged for me to have a job in the Duke Divinity School library while I was getting my library degree at the University of North Carolina and then got me hired as the second professional librarian at HUGSR.  She frequently reminded me that I had never had to look for a job, and thanks to her I didn’t.  Others can relate similar stories.  A few of you probably have received speaking engagements, awards, or jobs because of her politicking behind the scenes.  Annie May recommended Betty Bates for a teaching positing at Harding Academy, and the way Betty tells it Dr. Bowie was afraid not to hire her.

Annie May encouraged anyone she felt needed it. For many years she sent out a regular newsletter to missionaries and also sent them cards.  Many of you have received such cards or notes.  Hardly a day passed that I did not see a card (usually more than one) mailed through the HUGSR bookstore with the address typed in the distinctive font of her manual typewriter.  Her “encouragement” took on a little bit different tone if you were working on a writing project that you were not getting done.  A few of you have experienced that “encouragement.”

Annie May never asked for anything for herself, but was never hesitant to ask for money for HUGSR or its library.  I found the notes she used in a presentation to a library group on the acquisition of periodicals.  In it she said that the librarian had to become a beggar to build a good collection, and she did.
She did not spend money on what most of us would call the finer things of life.  Her idea of a fancy meal out was a Wendy’s hamburger and maybe some pistachio almond ice cream.  She was content to live frugally and send her money to people and institutions she felt needed it.  When John and Jerry gave her a new fur coat, she was almost embarrassed to wear it because it looked too much like a mink, and she was quick to tell people that she did not buy it nor was it mink.

Many of you have been recipients of her hospitality that included good food and fellowship offered to every conceivable category of people.  As Alice Methvin observed, “Annie May had a great capacity to love” and that love knew no social, ethnic, racial, or educational bounds.  She loved her family and supported them in any way she could.  She very lovingly cared for her mother, who lived with her the last eight years of her life.  She loved Jack, whom she married just 3 days short of her 61st birthday, about 16 years after she had run him out of the Harding library.  If there ever was a match made in heaven, this was surely one.  It would be hard to find a better example of God’s command to love others as he loved us.

Annie May was a great believer in prayer and prayed regularly for a host of people.  I’m probably in such good health today because of her consistent prayers for me.

On April 6 Annie May will become the first person to receive the alumnus of the year award from HUGSR for the second time.  For the last few years this award has been presented to the alumnus who best characterizes HUGSR’s theme of the year.  This year’s theme was holiness and the alumni and administration could think of no one who exemplified holiness more than Annie May.  When she was librarian at HUGSR, the janitor said the safest place in case of a storm would be in the library because Annie May was just a little closer to God than anyone else around there.  This was the same janitor who gave her his money belt to keep when he was carried away in an ambulance with a heart attack.  He trusted her more than his own family.

Truly Annie May embodied the statement she made in an interview: “Where there’s need, try to fill it because you belong to the Lord.”

In an article entitled “Heaven” in the White Station bulletin in February 2004 Annie May related a story of her choice to pay a surprise visit home her first year in college rather than take a trip to Washington, D.C.  I want to read the next to last paragraph of this article with the assurance that she has realized what she hoped for:

“On occasion I return to my hometown for visits with cousins and close neighbors, but the people for whom I made those very frequent trips are no longer there. The house still stands and the memories are still there, but those who made the memories have already gone home.  I look forward to an association with them that won’t include any goodbyes.”

Don L. Meredith