CAMPBELLSVILLE – The collection of Ron Lewis’ congressional papers – doodles and all – now are part of archives at Campbellsville University’s Montgomery Library.
A dedication service Monday afternoon celebrated the accomplishments of the former Baptist preacher from Hardin County who largely was a political unknown when he filed for the 2nd Congressional District seat in a 1994 special election. In his brief remarks, he chose to focus on the constituents.
“It was your office. You allowed me to use it, to work for you,” the Republican said. “It was hard work but it was truly a blessing.”
While researchers might analyze his decision-making processes by examining the documents, Lewis asked that his scribbles and sketches in the margins be excused.
“Those are from some of those boring committee meetings,” he said.
In addition to his documents, Lewis donated a more formal example of his drawing skills to the university, where he serves on the board of trustees. Lewis recently completed an acrylic painting, reflective of the Renaissance style, depicting Mary and an infant Jesus.
Upon arriving in Washington, D.C., Lewis quickly made a mark, according to U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan, R-Tennessee, who was guest speaker at Monday’s ceremonies.
“Almost immediately he became one of the most popular members of Congress,” Duncan said.
Duncan credits Lewis’ courtly manners and kindness for his popularity and his effectiveness working with members of both parties.
As a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which focuses on all revenue-generating legislation, Duncan said Lewis was at the forefront of major legislative decisions of his era.
“As far as the tobacco buyout, we’d still be working on it if it wasn’t for Ron Lewis,” Duncan said.
The buyout bill ended price controls for burley tobacco production and a quota system that regulated growers. It provided a series of payments to eligible farmers that allowed them to stay financially sound while searching for ways to end dependence on the state’s top cash crop.
Dr. Glen Taul, a Campbellsville University archivist who spent years organizing and cataloging Lewis’ papers and cited Lewis’ efforts aimed at preserving Fort Knox as a second key achievement of his term, which ended with his retirement in 2009.
The documents have been assembled into 87 nondescript gray boxes stacked along a wall in the library’s commons area. A string quartet played classical music as a prelude to the ceremony and the assembled crowd more than doubled the seven rows of chairs arranged for the event.
Brett Guthrie, the district’s current representative, was among those at the ceremony. Citing his father, Guthrie said he’s learned the true measure of a person is how they treat people who are not in a position of authority.
Since replacing Lewis in Congress, Guthrie said he frequently is asked about Lewis by two women who work in the cloak room. Guthrie sees that as a tribute to Lewis’ personality and character.
While photos from the collection showed Lewis with foreign officials, congressional leaders and President George W. Bush, Lewis said the aspect of the job he misses most is traveling the district meeting with voters.
John Chowning, a CU vice president who worked three years on Lewis’ staff, echoed that idea.
“He truly was the people’s representative,” Chowning said. “He kept in contact with his district.”