Margaret Wade-Lewis, a godly woman, a bearer of much fruit during the years that were allotted to her, and a woman of dignity; the adored third child and second daughter of The Rev. John E. Williams Sr. and Mrs. Marjorie Clark Williams, parents who reared their nine children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, has passed into life eternal.
She grew up in Haskell, OK where during her early life, her giftedness in writing, literature, speaking and dramatic interpretation began to find expression. She cherished her parents and enjoyed growing up in a large active family of sisters and brothers as they became part of several congregations pastored by their father in small Oklahoma towns. At the age of eight, she gave her heart and life to Christ and was baptized by her father, the late Rev. J.E. Williams, Sr. She graduated from the Booker T. Washington High School with honors and began her academic career at Langston University in Langston, OK.
After completing her undergraduate and graduate studies and making enriching contributions at several universities, she became a member of the New Paltz community, where she met and married her beloved David Lewis, and they reared their family, and for years provided a welcoming home for additional children who needed loving parents on a short or long term basis.
For the past 25 years, she and her family have been members of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Poughkeepsie (The Rev. E. Clayton Wade, Pastor), where she served as Superintendent of the Church School, Chair of the Board of Christian Education Ministry, teacher for the Junior/High Class, and Director of Black History Month programs. As Chair of the Christian Education Ministry, she and other board members organized many of the educational programs at the church, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commemoration and Scholarship and Recognition Sunday.
Up until a few days ago, she immersed herself in the work that she loved on behalf of the students of SUNY New Paltz, continuing to read and give feedback on research papers from her hospital bed. Her professional role was Department Chair and Associate Professor of Linguistics and Literature in the Department of Black Studies at SUNY New Paltz. A related role, which she valued highly was that of Mentor to the students of the Scholar’s Mentorship Program of which she was the Director and one of the founding members. The SMP was a networking initiative for general admission students of color and interested students of all ethnic groups.
Her academic credentials and achievements were numerous, multifaceted and outstanding. In 1988, she was the first African-American woman to earned a Ph.D. in Linguistics from New York University. She also earned a Bachelor’s degree in English from Langston University, Langston, OK, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude, and a Master’s degree in English from Oklahoma State University.
Her range of experience as a college level instructor and professor before coming to SUNY New Paltz included teaching English and Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, CA; University of Nebraska, Omaha, NE; University of Texas, Austin, TX, and being an independent researcher at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.
She began her association with SUNY New Paltz in 1974 as an Assistant Professor in the Black Studies Dept. For the next 35 years and up until just a few days ago, she performed in roles as varied as teaching, administering the Affirmative Action Program, directing the Linguistics program and directing the Scholar’s Mentorship Program. In addition to directing the mentorship program, she was advisor to several student organizations, including African Women’s Alliance, the New Day Theater Ensemble, and the Xi Mu Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
Through the years, she was the recipient of numerous fellowships, awards and grants. To name a few: appointed Faculty Fellow in the Office of Folk Life Program, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC, summer of 1986; received the National Endowment for the Humanities Travel to Collections Grant for Archival Research in the Turner Collection, Northwestern University Library, Evantston, IL, spring of 1993; received Sabbaticals, SUNY New Paltz, in the spring of 1993, spring of 2002 and spring of 2009; received Grant for Research and Creative Projects Award for 2003-04, and was appointed to the Board of the Reizod Foundation, December 2003; received Exemplary Program Award for the Scholar’s Mentorship Program from Pi Chapter of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, April 2004; Exemplary Advisor Award from Voices of Unity Gospel Choir at its 25th Anniversary Concert, November 2005, others in 2006, 2007 and 2008; received 2009 Salute to Black Achievers Award for Education at the Annual Black Achievers Celebration, Beulah Baptist Church, Poughkeepsie, February 2009.
Dr. Wade-Lewis wrote and had published hundreds of journal articles, book reviews and other writings. Just a few of her publications are: "The Black Aesthetic in the Black Novel," co-authored by Melvin Wade; "The Censorship of Black Books," Lorenzo Dow Turner: First African American Linguist, "The Impact of the Turner/Herskovits Connection on Linguistics and Anthropology," "Beryl Bailey: Africanist Woman Linguist in New York State," "The Status of Semantic Items from African Languages in English," "Lorenzo Dow Turner: Beyond Gullah Studies," and several critical articles on African American women writers, among them, Toni Morrison.
Her book, Lorenzo Dow Turner: Father of Gullah Studies, the first full-length biography on Turner (the University of South Carolina Press, 2007) won the College Language Association 2008 Creative Scholarship Award.
Keynote speaker, lecturer, workshop leader, discussion leader, mistress of ceremonies, conference organizer, panelist, fiscal designee, chair, committee secretary/treasurer, thesis advisor, director, host are roles and designations that she fulfilled as member of the university community, and as she reached out to work with church, community, school districts and others. Her professional associations were many, including the New York African Studies Association and the Linguistic Society of America, College Language Association.
Her professional works that were in progress included: "African Naming Practices in the Novels of Octavia Butler," and "Fatima Massaquoi: Liberian Woman Anthropologist."
Dr. Wade-Lewis believed in doing whatever her hands found to do. She was past Chair of the New Paltz School District Task Force for Change and Diversity; secretary of the advocacy group, Concerned Parents of New Paltz, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and served as a board member of the Reizod Foundation, an organization founded to give new shoes to children in need, for which she chaired the Volunteer Committee.
In her personal life, she was known for her many kindnesses to family and friends. It gave her joy to lavish thoughtful and sometimes expensive gifts on her husband, children, sisters and brothers, and she did not forget her friends. She loved preparing elegant dinners for her family, special occasion events for her university colleagues and writing birthday stories for her siblings. She, along with family, traveled great distances to support family and friends on their special occasions. She was in the process of planning an Alaskan cruise to salute her daughter in celebration of a milestone birthday in the summer. She organized family meetings for her siblings, and when there was a crisis in the family, she was the planner of the prayer vigil, conference call, or financial assistance or whatever was needed. Her favorite hymn, "I’m Gonna Trust in the Lord", and favorite scripture Phillippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Despite many odds, she lived her life just that way with that "God kind of faith".
Persons whom she loved deeply and who now mourn her loss include her husband David Lewis, retired social studies teacher and current Town Councilman, New Paltz, and three children, Chaka Wade, New York City financial consultant, Esi Lewis, New York City Assistant District Attorney, and Solomon Lewis, New Paltz, railroad contractor. Her siblings, Lillian W. Lancaster (Carl), Orlando, FL; Rev. John E. Williams (Annette), Tulsa, OK; Richard Williams, Tulsa, OK; Dr James Williams, Dickson, ND; Dr. Carolyn Williams Bell (Cliff), Marietta, GA; Mary W. Smith (Gary), Bakersfield, CA; Marjorie Ray (Therman), Porter, OK; Steven C. Williams, Kildeer, IL; beloved Clark family cousins, nieces, nephews, host of professional colleagues, special friends, church family, cherished students of SUNY New Paltz, young people who became part of her extended family through the years, professional colleagues in organizations across the U.S. and the world. Though the voice of wisdom that she possessed is now silent, the loving heart filled with caring and compassion is now still, an advocate for all who need is no longer among us, but a rich legacy of achievement, reaching out, making a positive difference in every situation will continue to inspire those who knew and loved her.
First visitation will be Tuesday, January 5, 2010, 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm at Rhodes Funeral Chapel, 43 Fairview Avenue, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601. Second visitation will be Wednesday, January 6, 2010, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm, at Beth-El Church of God in Christ, 91 Hooker Avenue, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601. Services will follow at 12:00 pm at the church. Interment will be Saturday, January 9, 2010, Haskell City Cemetery, Muskogee County, OK.