Oldest known member of B’nai Brith dies
April 20, 2012 | Mike Cohen - Quebec Bureau Chief
MONTREAL – B’nai Brith Canada’s oldest living member, Dr. Reginald Lewis, passed away recently at the age of 98.
Dr. Lewis was one of Quebec’s first Jewish optometrists, continuing to ply his trade until just a few years ago when Ethel, his wife of 68 years, died. They had just moved into their new home – B’nai Brith House in Côte Saint-Luc.
It was an appropriate locale for them for B’nai Brith Canada was very much in Dr. Lewis’s blood as a member for decades and a past president of the Mount Royal Lodge and the Eastern Regional Council.
“I was saddened to learn of Reggie's passing,” said Allan Adel, national chair of the B’nai Brith League League for Human Rights. “He was a fine gentleman and an exemplary and devoted member and leader of B’nai Brith and Mount Royal Lodge. I will remember him always as a warm and friendly person and fellow volunteer who exemplified the motto of B’nai Brith, ‘people helping people.’”
More than 600 people attended Dr. Lewis’s funeral at Paperman and Sons, something quite uncommon for a gentleman who was close to a century old. Everyone on hand listened with amazement as his grandchildren Shawn and Lianne Lewis and Rabbi Michael Whitman of the Adath Israel Poale Zedek Anshei Ozeroff Congregation in Hampstead spoke about his remarkable life. His late mother lived until the age of 105 and worked as his secretary, retiring at 88.
Shawn Lewis recounted one of the final conversations he had with his ‘Zeidah Regie,’ who commented how life is short.
“This was essentially the message that Zeidah Reggie shared with me when I visited him,” he said. “It’s amazing that, having lived almost a century, he thought life was short. But I think it’s more a testament to the type of life he led.”
Dr. Lewis became an optometrist in the late 1930s. He had his own practice downtown for many years. While one son, Lew, became a psychologist, his other son Howard followed in his footsteps.
“They worked side-by-side for 25 years,” said granddaughter Lianne, “Reggie was a mentor to Howard – teaching him not just the professional skills, but also the people skills. (This was) the main reason that patients kept coming back for more than 65 years, and the reason that many also became lifelong friends. Zeidah Reggie had an unrivalled work ethic. He finally decided to retire and slow down after 65 years at age 92. That’s a long run by any standard. I think Lew and Howard were relieved when he retired because they both worried about retiring first and having to drive their dad to work.”
It turns out Dr. Lewis was also a phenomenal musician.
“He grew up in a musical and creative home,” said grandson Shawn. “His father Lou was a professional musician. He played cello and saxophone. He once played before the Queen. His sister Clarice was an actress and elocutionist.
“Reggie was a natural. Even into his 90s, his ear and feel for music were innate. Most notably, Reggie played the piano, but he also played the saxophone and the clarinet. Over the years, he played with jazz greats like Oscar Peterson and Maynard Ferguson.
“Beginning in the 1940s, he had his own band, called Reggie Lewis and His Orchestra. He played at high-profile events around Montreal, including weddings and bar mitzvahs. It wasn’t unusual for us to run into people who fondly recalled him playing at one of their events.”
Between the ages of 85 and 90, Dr. Lewis took the city bus once a week to the Jewish Hospital of Hope where he played the piano for the patients.
“I’m not sure who got more joy out of it,” Shawn said. “He often joked that many of the residents were younger than he was.”
Dr. Lewis leaves two sons, two daughters-in-law, four grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.