Robert Earle Lewis
Robert Earle Lewis, a longtime Ridgefielder whose career as a Pan Am flight engineer spanned four decades aboard airliners ranging from the famous flying boats to Boeing 747s, died Saturday, September 2, at Meadow Ridge in Redding, Connecticut. He was 96 years old and the husband of Jean Brisbine Lewis.
The second of four children, Bob was born on April 7, 1921 in Rapid City, South Dakota to Myrtle Ewing and Earle Leslie Lewis. During his high school years he was a star athlete and along with his brother set local records in basketball and football. He was active in the Boy Scouts of America and became the youngest Eagle Scout in the state of South Dakota.
He attended the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology where his uncle was president and it was there that he met Jean Brisbine, a recent graduate of the University of South Dakota and his uncle’s secretary. The two shared a love of golf and dancing to the big band era music and they continued to enjoy music throughout their lives. Bob and Jean married in 1943, the same year Bob graduated from college and was recruited by Pan American World Airways. When Pan Am contracted with the Navy during WWII, Bob served his country by flying passengers and cargo in the Pacific. After the war, Bob continued his career with Pan Am until he retired in 1985 as the second most senior flight engineer in the company.
During his career he witnessed many changes and flew everything from the famous Clipper Boats to the Boeing 747’s. He was first based out of San Francisco and later spent six years in London at the airline’s new European base where he flew routes throughout the world. At the time, Pan Am was a glamorous U.S. flagship and flying was a first class operation affordable only to the wealthy. Bob and Jean embraced the opportunity to participate in this exciting era and with their family traveled extensively.
In 1957 the family moved to Ridgefield when Bob was stationed with Pan Am in New York. He flew out of JFK as one of the first crews to launch Pan Am into the jet age with its Boeing 707’s. He was among the first to be trained on the 747, which he flew until he retired as chief flight engineer.
Bob was an avid golfer and played into his nineties at Silver Spring Country Club where he was an active member and served on the Board of Governors. He was a member of the Ridgefield Rotary Club and the First Congregational Church. He and Jean moved from their Ridgefield home of fifty years to Meadow Ridge Retirement Community in Redding in their nineties where Bob’s golf skills were immediately demonstrated in the season long croquet competitions.
Bob is survived by his wife, Jean, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday. He is also survived by his daughter, Linda Drake of San Francisco; his son, Robert Lewis and wife Gerri of Ridgefield; his five grandchildren, Tracy Drake of Chicago; Joanna Drake and husband Christopher Smith of San Francisco; Tyson Lewis and wife Claire and Gillian Sheerin and husband Damien of Ridgefield; Christian Lewis and wife Judi Lee of Brooklyn; his ten great grandchildren: Nicole Koerner and Natalie Drake of Chicago; Amanda and Natasha Earl of San Francisco; Shelby and Miles Lewis and Lylah and Dylan Sheerin of Ridgefield; and Holden and Hunter Lewis of Brooklyn. A sister, Dorothy and her husband Holly Reid from Amarillo, Texas as well as many nieces, nephews and extended family, also survive him.
A celebration of Bob’s life will be held at Silver Spring Country Club on Wednesday, September 13, at 4:00 p.m.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the Town of Ridgefield Emergency Fund, 400 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT 06877 or to a charity of one’s choice.