Dayton's first black female TV reporter, Retha Phillips, on the influence of Edythe Lewis, Dayton's first black radio show host.

Dayton broadcast pioneer, city commissioner dies

A former Dayton city commissioner and radio pioneer is being remembered for her humor, grace and love of the Gem City.

Edythe M. Lewis, the wife of the late Lloyd E. Lewis Jr., died June 5 as the result of Alzheimer’s Disease, her daughter Crystal Lewis said Monday, June 9.

Edythe Lewis was 90.

While many knew Lewis for her career achievements, including being the first black woman to host a radio show in Dayton, Crystal Lewis said her mother’s kindness was perhaps her best contribution.

“She loved people and helping people,” said Crystal Lewis, a retired airport police sergeant. “She was a loving and giving person. She never thought of herself first.”

Edythe Lewis was inducted into the Dayton Area Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2003 for her disc jockey work on WING radio as “Delilah.”

“Many of us recall Mrs. Edythe Lewis as a community servant, giving countless hours to programs and local events to which she supported in the Dayton community,” Jim “Johnson, president of the hall and WDAO Radio said.”Her picture remains on the wall inside of the Dayton Convention Center.”

Funeral arrangements are pending and are being planned around the upcoming birth of Edythe Lewis’ first great-grandchild.

Besides her daughter, she is survived by granddaughter Tiffany Robere. Robere and her husband Sean are soon expecting their first child and cannot travel, Crystal Lewis said. Lewis was preceded in death by her first-born son Lloyd in infancy and her second child James in 1996.

A Harlem, N.Y. native, Lt. Edythe Lewis was a Navy nurse stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey in the late ’40s when she met the fellow lieutenant who would become her husband.

“She met him, married him and came to Dayton. I always told them they were like ‘Green Acres.’ He said ‘you are my wife’ and she said ‘goodbye city life’,” Crystal Lewis said partly quoting the TV show’s theme. “She was very sophisticated, and my father was very country… She learned to love, absolutely loved Dayton.”

It was Lloyd Lewis’ idea in the 1950s to put his wife on the radio to attract more customers to his Fifth Street appliance store, Lloyd Lewis Sales and Service. The couple took requests for R&B and jazz songs.

Retha Phillips, the Miami Valley’s first black female TV reporter, called Edythe Lewis a childhood role model who inspired her to work in radio and later on TV.

“She was so sweet, and she was always willing to help someone,” Phillips said of Lewis. “I said, ‘if she could do it, there may be a way that I can.’ ”

As a reporter, Phillips covered Mrs. Lewis after she filled her husband’s seat following his death in 2001 after a fight with lymphoma and pneumonia.

Then 77, Edythe Lewis had been a public health nurse and Miami Conservancy District administrator before retiring in the early 1980s.

Rhine Mclin, the first black woman to serve in the Ohio Senate, and former Montgomery County Democratic Party Chairman Dennis Lieberman persuaded Lewis to fill her husband’s unexpired seat and to run for his seat.

She defeated Abner Orick 4,842 to 2,524 in the special election, according to an archived Dayton Daily News article.

“Edythe was a remarkable woman within her own right,” Lieberman said. “She was intelligent. She had a great personality, and she had common sense. Those are some of the attributes that we look for when we are looking for public officials. To me, it was a no-brainer.”

Lieberman said Lewis also was witty.

“I found her to be delightful to talk to, and she was able to keep life in perspective,” he said.

Mclin, a former Dayton mayor, was a student at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, where Lewis was school nurse.

Her father C.J. Mclin, an Ohio state representative, knew Edythe Lewis’ father-in-law, Lloyd E. Lewis Sr. — a founder of the Dayton Urban League.

“She was supportive of her husband, but she made it clear that she was independent,” Mclin said. “She was definitely an inspiration because of her character. You never saw her raise her voice. Rome could have burning, and Mrs. Lewis was calm.”

Paraphrasing a quote attributed to recently deceased poet Maya Angelou, Mclin said Lewis will be remembered by how she made people feel rather than what she said.

“I am glad she was in my life,” McLin said.

Sharon Howard, WDTN-TV’s former executive director of community and public relations, said Lewis helped pave the way for many that followed her.

“You could not be a professional in this community without knowing Lloyd and Edythe Lewis. They were everywhere,” Howard, now a consultant, said. “If not for her, what would have happened to the women who came after her?”

Contact this blogger at Twitter.com/DDNSmartMouth or arobinson@DaytonDailyNews.com.

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