On National Nurses Day, Mercer and the community will celebrate a woman who dedicated her life’s work to educating and supporting the next generation of nurses.
Grace Lewis, Georgia Baptist College of Nursing clinical associate professor and Center for Nursing Excellence coordinator, died on Feb. 3 at age 74 after a short illness. The Decatur resident was a registered nurse for 52 years and a faculty member at the College for 32, in addition to six years on staff at Georgia Baptist Hospital School of Nursing when it was a diploma program. At the Mercer Board of Trustees meeting in April, Lewis was posthumously awarded associate professor emerita status.
The community is invited to a memorial service in honor of Lewis at 10 a.m. May 6 in the Interfaith Prayer Garden on Mercer’s Atlanta campus (see map at end of story). An already special program has turned into something even more extraordinary amid the planning, said Dean Dr. Linda Streit, who started her work at the College of Nursing at the same time as Lewis.
Two members of the Georgia chapter of the Nurses Honor Guard are traveling from Augusta for the program, marking the first time the guard has participated in a memorial service in the state, according to the national chapter of the organization. Wearing capes and the traditional nurse uniform and cap, they will perform the “Nightingale Tribute,” which symbolizes releasing a nurse from her duties. In addition, two emeriti nursing faculty members will wear Georgia Baptist capes.
Everyone in attendance will light a candle in recognition of the “light” that Lewis was to the nursing profession, said emerita faculty member Dr. Freida Payne. In addition, the Rev. Dr. Gregory DeLoach, dean of the McAfee School of Theology, will offer prayers, and a harpist will perform.
Lewis joined the faculty at the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing in 1990, as it was transitioning from a diploma to baccalaureate program, and was instrumental in preparing and implementing the new curriculum and policies, Dr. Streit said. The College would later merge with Mercer, move to the Atlanta campus and start master’s, Ph.D., Doctor of Nursing Practice and other educational tracks, and Lewis remained a constant support to students. She started the College’s Center for Nursing Excellence and was highly involved in the National Student Nursing Association and the Georgia Baptist chapter.
“I’ve taught at some wonderful places, but because of people like Grace, I stayed there for 24 years,” said Dr. Payne, who joined the faculty in 1995. “She sort of represented all of us in her caring and compassion for those students. She was more than a faculty member to those students. She was always attentive and not just to their learning needs.”
Lewis was wholly committed to her family and church, as well as her colleagues and students, said emerita faculty member Dr. Dare Domico, who joined the faculty in 1990. Lewis and husband Cecil have two children and a grandson, who was her pride and joy. And while Lewis had a serious side, she was also spunky and fun to be around and had a great sense of humor.
She was a football fanatic, especially when it came to the Atlanta Falcons; an avid shopper; one of the best cake makers around; and a thoughtful friend, Dr. Payne said. Always fashionable, she took great pride in her appearance and showed students how to present themselves professionally, Dr. Domico said.
“It was all about the passion for teaching those students how to learn. She had a gift for doing that. Her goal was always about student support and retention of her students,” Dr. Streit said. “We have a slogan at Georgia Baptist: ‘If we admit you, we commit to you.’ Grace lived that to the very end. She really was a mentor to them in many ways beyond the academic part.”
Grace moved, spoke and acted methodically and purposefully, Dr. Payne said. Two of her greatest strengths were her abilities to listen and foster collaboration, and she could easily capture a room with her words, Dr. Streit said. She would never hesitate to remind everyone what they were there for — to educate the students — and fostering success remained front and center in all her work.
“She always told it like it was,” Dr. Payne said. “She was not afraid to speak up for those students and make sure they were being treated right. She wasn’t afraid to let us know if we had slipped up in some way, and she’d jerk us back to reality.”
She worked one-on-one with students who were having difficulties, had tough conversations with them when they were needed, and got to know them personally, Dr. Streit said. Lewis knew about the issues and hardships students were facing and advocated for them. She recognized needs that were often overlooked and made the faculty more aware of them, Dr. Domico said.
For instance, Lewis always kept a basket filled with healthy snacks, so students with food insecurities could grab something to eat for free if they needed it. Lewis’ family and colleagues plan to continue this tradition.
“She was an advocate for the students and was always telling them how it’s not just what you learn in school but how you approach your profession and provide leadership,” Dr. Domico said. “It was all about students, meeting their needs and teaching them how to be successful.
“The students loved Grace. They always knew that she had their back and she was there to help them achieve what they had come to school for.”