Dwight Lewis Knows What Truly Counts
October 4, 2011
Growing up, I was a news junkie. I loved opening up a fresh paper and peeling back each page as though it were an onion, uncovering some new piece of information with each page I turned. Some would make me cry, some would make me laugh, others would make me angry. It is the angry part that would lead me to write a letter to Mr. Dwight Lewis and in turn uncover a story that made me laugh, made me cry, and but most importantly made me thankful for Dwight Lewis, who recently retired after working more than 40 years as a journalist for The Tennessean.
I cannot recall why I had become so angry at the article Mr. Lewis had written that day; perhaps it had something to do with being 18 and stubborn as a mule or simply the fact that I wanted to disagree with him that day. Whatever it was, I felt compelled enough to write about it. After reading his article I put down The Tennessean and headed straight for the computer. I was armed with his email address and my keyboard. Twenty minutes later I pushed the send button and awaited his reply. In the meantime I vented to my mother about how wrong he was and how right I was. I mentioned Mr. Lewis by name only in passing, focusing instead on my argument; but his name had caught the attention of my mom. I was seated at our kitchen table still rambling on before she finally stopped me and cautioned me to be mindful of my words. In her loving yet stern motherly voice she tempered my anger by instilling in me the notion that just because you can yell the loudest does not mean you should drown out others.
I had described my triumphant email to her, and she seemed disappointed, not that I had disagreed, but the manner in which I had done so. “Words are powerful tools, and it is how you use them that determine what kind of person you are,” she told me. I was about to learn just how true her motherly wisdom was. As I sat there stewing at the kitchen table I had not realized that my mom had vanished out of the kitchen and was making her way toward her room. To say I was perplexed was an understatement. She is not one to just leave a room unannounced, much less in the middle of a teaching moment.
A few minutes later she returned and handed me an old clipped article from The Tennessean. There was Dwight Lewis’ familiar face staring back at me, albeit a little younger Dwight, but nonetheless him. The paper had faded with the years, and as I scanned to the title I could only stare blankly at the words I was reading, “Kennedy Knew What Truly Counted.” The article publication date was listed as January 29, 1998, three days after my father Jim Kennedy, former deputy governor to Governor Ned R. McWherter, had died unexpectedly. I sat there and started to read the words Dwight had composed and began to cry. I use the word compose because Dwight’s words were composed like Mozart composed a symphony. He brought my father to life like bagpipes do to the notes of Amazing Grace. It had been 10 years since my father had died of a heart attack while playing tennis, and like the paper I was holding in my hand, my memories of him had faded.
Dwight began to tell a story about a phone call he had had with my dad a few days before Christmas about a recent story regarding a grand jury hearing that my dad had been seated on. My dad let Dwight know that he did not want to be “the source” for the information; rather he just wanted the full story to be looked into because the he felt the public deserved to know. My dad was suspicious of the work that the DA’s office had done because of the time frame of the investigation, and after the story was investigated his hunch proved to be right. But the point of the story is not who was right or who was wrong; it is that honesty is what truly counts. If you are honest, you have nothing to hide, nothing to fear. The public deserved to know the full story no matter the consequences because it was their right. A title or a position does not make one privy to being above the law. My dad trusted Dwight and knew he would do the right thing; he would publish the honest truth regardless of what it was because the public deserved to know.
Most of the memories I have now are times that stick out in every child’s life; either I was in a lot of trouble or I had done something really good. I remember the night I refused to say yes ma’am to mom before my dad slammed on the car brakes, reached back, grabbed my leg, looked me in the face and informed me that I would respond with “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” and there would be no questions asked. Needless to say, I still say my sirs and ma’ams today. I remember the last time I saw him, telling him I would wait until he got home to watch the Super Bowl, only to have him never come back. I remember his laugh and his contagious sense of humor that could put everyone around him at ease. I remember his love for his boss, former Gov. Ned R McWherter, and everything he stood for. He was a man of love, character and honesty, just like the man my dad hoped I would one day become.
Well dad, I have to say you owe Dwight Lewis a few beers one day because his article helped me to understand what you wanted in life not just for me but for every person, what it meant to be a decent human being. Dwight, my dad may not be around to thank you for your words but for both us I say thank you. For my family I say thank you. You have given us a gift that will give forever. I wish there were more people out there like you, a man of love, character, honesty, and not to mention a heck of a writer. Life brings many obstacles, but because of Dwight Lewis I have one less to navigate. A little boy who had searched for his dad now has him forever thanks to a few honest words by Dwight Lewis. My mom was right; words are powerful tools and it is how you use them that determine what kind of person you are. I am thankful that Dwight Lewis used his words to make a difference and speak for those who cannot.