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Islander takes selfless path: Retired Island dentist, Rotarian recognized for ‘exemplary humanitarian service’
Thirteen bicycles are strewn across the driveway of Bob Lewis’ South-end Mercer Island home. He’s accumulating as many used bikes as possible to send to Ghana, West Africa, to help farmers and healthcare workers get to their work.
Next Saturday, he’ll be at First Harvest, helping package excess food for the needy. He awaits the next step of Rotary Park transformation, where he regularly helps with cleanup. You’ll also find him ringing bells for Salvation Army at holiday times, and keeping an eye open for ways to get involved with Earth Watch, an environmental action group.
Lewis is a charter member of the Mercer Island Rotary Club and has been active for 44 years. He’s taken repeated leadership roles, as past-president and head of its foundation, the fundraising arm for example. He and his family have hosted 11 Rotary exchange students through the years.
He has led his Unitarian Universalist Church students and taken part in its social action arm. He helps prepare meals for shut-ins and the homeless. He volunteers as an English teacher at Seattle Community College and Mercer Island High.
That’s just some of what he does close to home.
Bob Lewis’ international service reads like a molecule excited by fire: Most recently, he helped inoculate against polio in India and helped deliver wheelchairs for the handicapped in Guatemala. He has helped repair disadvantaged people’s teeth in rural areas of Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Panama, Paraguay, Bolivia, Guatemala and Costa Rica, where he served in a United Nations Refugee Camp.
On the off-dentistry year, Lewis helps with ecological projects - such as an agricultural project in Peru, sociologic study in Gibraltar, environmental work in Venezuela and Mexico, marine biology in Spain and the Canary Islands, anthropological study on Easter Island and Uruguay, paleontology and ecology in Mexico, and ornithology in Vietnam. Earth Corp's national magazine published a story on Lewis’ work in Vietnam.
Lewis considers himself an ordinary citizen. “It’s just that after 75 years of living, it all adds up,” says the Mercer Island retired dentist who was recognized last month by Rotary International for exemplary humanitarian service. He is one of about 150 to receive this “Service Above Self Award” this year, as chosen from the entire 1.2 million worldwide membership.
“Bob’s life speaks for itself,” says MI Rotary President John Matthews. “He is a selfless and joyful servant who has devoted himself to others in so many ways .. a role model on how to lead a full life while giving away time and energy to those in need. Time and again, he has worked without electricity or running water to alleviate pain and infection.”
Lewis was born in Seattle, and lived most of his life on Mercer Island. He earned his doctor of dentistry in 1957 from UW, instructed at the dental school from 1987 to 1992 and received the “Dentist Citizen of the Year Award” for the state of Washington in 1982. He formed the Association of Volunteer Dentists in 1989, which perpetuates more help to meet dentistry relief in Third World countries.
He says that despite living in remote primitive places, the friends he’s made abroad are not necessarily unhappy. “They have an interesting — more laid-back — philosophy of life. One we can learn from.”