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Robert D.G. Lewis remembered as SPJ leader, FOI crusader

By eijnews

Former SPJ president awarded highest honor

By Paige Cornwell and Ryan Murphy
The Working Press

Top former leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists remembered one of their own, Robert D.G. Lewis, for advocating freedom of information issues.
The former SPJ national president and veteran Washington journalist died July 10 at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va.
Lewis was 80.
“He was Mr. First Amendment,” said former SPJ president Paul Davis. “We met with people from other organizations to share the importance of the First Amendment. He wanted to make sure it wasn’t just ours. The First Amendment was for everyone.”

Robert D.G. Lewis, former SPJ national president and veteran Washington journalist.
Courtesy Photo

For his work in furthering access and freedom of information issues for journalists, SPJ awarded Lewis the Wells Memorial Key, its highest honor for a member, in 1980.
“A major part of his legacy for SPJ was to insure that journalists were protected in the conduct of the work that they had to do, and had access to records and access to meetings,” said Fred Brown, another former SPJ President.
In keeping with Lewis’ vision, the SPJ gives the annual Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award to a student SPJ member who “has demonstrated outstanding service to the First Amendment,” according to a description of the award on SPJ’s website.
The Washington, D.C., Pro chapter also gives the Robert D.G. Lewis Watchdog Award to journalists who have worked to protect the public from those who would betray the public trust.
Former colleagues remembered Lewis as a kind yet firm reporter.
“He always struck me as very gracious and a real gentleman, the kind of journalist that demands respect,” Brown said.
Lewis, a Chicago native, graduated in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University.
He began his career at The Register-Mail in Galesburg, Ill., and later worked his way up to Statehouse reporter for Booth Newspapers in Michigan. In 1966, he was promoted to Booth’s Washington bureau.
In 1976, Booth Newspapers was bought by Advance Publications, which also owned Newhouse News Service.
Lewis retired in 1991 from Newhouse News Service.
By that time, he was the news service’s senior Washington correspondent. He then edited the AARP Bulletin until 1999.
During his career, Lewis held a number of leadership roles in SPJ, including the presidency from 1985-1986, and chairmanship of the SPJ’s national Freedom of Information Committee.
“Even though there wasn’t that big of a difference in our ages, I looked up to him,” Brown said. “I said, ‘there’s a good role model for national leadership.’”
Lewis’ survivors include his wife, Jacqueline; nine children; 17 grandchildren and a sister.

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