Marilyn Lewis, longtime diocesan worker, retires
Marilyn Lewis, longtime secretary to Bishop Emeritus Walter F. Sullivan, has retired from the Catholic Diocese of Richmond after 43 years there.
A life-long resident of Richmond, she was married and the mother of five young children when she took a full-time job in 1969 as secretary for the newly created Office of Lay Activities. The director of the new office was Charles Brower, a retired Naval officer, now deceased.
The office was in what was then called the Chancery on the 800 block of Cathedral Place, across from the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. The Lewis family were members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in the Lakeside area of Henrico.
In 1976 Mrs. Lewis became the secretary to Bishop Sullivan, a position she was to hold for the next 36 years. When Bishop Sullivan was succeeded by Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo in 2004, she reduced her work schedule to three days a week, Tuesday through Friday. She was then 72.
Mrs. Lewis was honored for her 43 years of service to the diocese June 27 at a lunch in which both Bishop Sullivan and Bishop DiLorenzo paid tribute to her as did as her long-time friend, Joan Pardue, retired director of the diocesan IT office.
“She has been a strong right arm to me,” Bishop Sullivan said. “She has been a wonderful secretary and I think I’ll still be calling on her. I guess I’ll have to give her a stipend.”
He jokingly recalled an episode many years ago in which Mrs. Lewis proudly declared that she had really cranked out the day’s correspondence to a record number of letters.
“I always remember she said she did 51 letters,” Bishop Sullivan told the gathering.
At that point Mrs. Lewis, sitting at the same lunch table as the Bishop, called out, “it was 61 letters.”
Unfazed, Bishop Sullivan continued the story, adding that his secretary responded “I should not have told you that. The next time you’ll want me to do 52 (or 62) letters.”
Mrs. Lewis later told The Catholic Virginian that getting out letters before modern technology took root was often a cumbersome process.
“I’ve seen so many changes over the years — not only in the Church, but in technology,” she said.
“I began with a Royal manual typewriter, but later as technology changed I had to learn new technology and new equipment and new practices.”
Bishop Sullivan often wanted duplicate copies of correspondence which he wanted filed in specific folders.
“In the early days you had to cut a waxed stencil that had to be affixed to a mimeograph machine,” Mrs. Lewis said. “We had only one machine to be used by every office.”
“Computers make everything so much easier.”
But Bishop Sullivan’s longtime secretary did not persuade the bishop to adapt himself to the computer age. She says she makes copies of email messages to him and prints copies of every letter he writes since he does not use the computer.
But the years with Bishop Sullivan have been good to her, she asserts.
“It’s been a privilege to work with Bishop Sullivan, a great communicator,” Mrs. Lewis said. “He still keeps an active schedule which I print out each month.
“He still visits the prisons and just went last week to Buckingham to confirm two inmates.”
Although she spent more than 35 years at what is called the old Chancery office, Mrs. Lewis thanked Bishop DiLorenzo for the move to the new Diocesan Pastoral Center in December 2007.
“The biggest boon was our move from Cathedral Place to the Pastoral Center,” she said. “It has been so much more convenient for me and there’s ample parking and meeting space.”
Those who know Mrs. Lewis are familiar with her passion for NASCAR racing, something which came long after she began working with the diocese.
“I got into it through my son-in-law Randy,” she explained. “I went to several races in Richmond with him and then went to see several races in Martinsville.
“I chose a favorite driver, Jeff Gordon, because he had won several races.”
“I wondered ‘how am I going to get these cookies to Jeff Gordon,’” Mrs. Lewis recalled. “Then I saw this big old guard and spoke to him about it. “I can still hear him now saying ‘Jeff will come out of this gate and you can give them to him then.’”
But the race car champion never came out. The guard then volunteered to take the cookies and said he would see that Mr. Gordon got them.
“I don’t think that happened,” Mrs. Lewis said, laughing. “I think the guard got the cookies.”
Now at age 80, Mrs. Lewis has retired. She feels it’s time.
“I want to be free to participate in activities with family and friends while I still have good health,” she said.
Her five children are daughters, Robbie, Suellen and Tener, and sons Brian and Scott. She also has seven grandchildren and a great-grandson, Ryan, four months.
“We’re a very close family and we have a lot of fun together,” she said.
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