The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Country doc mixes medicine and fun
IF THE Northern Neck has a Renaissance man, he’s Dr. Emory Lewis, the country doctor who is much more than that.
There’s the temptation to define the 68-year-old physician, whose office is in a restored farmhouse near Reedville, by the mementos he collects and his diverse pursuits in life.
The 30-foot rockfish of fabric on wood he uses for word play at the end of his office drive, which also is festooned with Burma Shave signs.
Talents that run from a green thumb to an inventor’s eye, giving him square watermelons in his office garden and a patent for a device to get fish off a hook.
A passion for preserving history that put a museum in his basement, his name on a history of Fleeton, where he lives, and a lighthouse replica at the end of his dock.
His success in varied fields, from working on a fishing boat to running a seafood business to profitable investments in real estate.
Or maybe, just maybe, his talent for enjoying life—one patient called him “ fun and bubbly.”
He has M&M dispensers in his office, a soft ice cream machine in his basement and a penchant for taking his staff on excursions and trips. Some have been with him for 34 years, and he considers them “like family.”
It all figures in, but if you spend a morning at Lewis’s office, which once belonged to longtime country doctor Richard Hudnall, it doesn’t take long to see what makes this doctor unique.
It’s there when sits with elderly patients and listens, sometimes for a half hour or more, to every problem they want to share, from high blood pressure to dizziness to arthritic knees.
You witness it as he not only asks about every phase of their lives, but touches them tenderly on the arm or holds their hand when they falter.
Amid the caring is typically a glimmer or two of the exuberance and fun he approaches life with, like when he calls a husband into the examining room at appointment’s end so both can hear a joke.
“Dr. Lewis not only lives and serves in a rural area, but he’s a country doctor at heart,” said Kathy Sydnor of Fredericksburg, a patient of Lewis who suggested this column.
Sydnor, who grew up in the Richmond county community of Village near the Northumberland County line, makes the 85-mile trip from Fredericksburg several times a year for her own appointments and for those of her mother, who also lives here.
“He is wonderfully kind and patient,” said Sydnor, who added the doctor has a zest for life that’s contagious.
Lewis said he, nurse practitioner Christina Slavin and the office staff feel right at home in Dr. Hudnall’s former home, Tidewell.
Patients are more at ease in exam rooms with fireplaces and high ceilings, the staff enjoys the use of a full kitchen and patients in some upstairs spaces can see nearby Cockrell’s Creek.
And because he’s been seeing some of them for 35 years, with no plans to retire soon, the good doctor knows their aches and pains and the fabric of their lives.
“I was one of his first patients,” said Sue Hood of Edwardsville, “and he’s always been the kind of doctor who will do everything he can for you.”
During office hours, Lewis is removing lesions one minute, then comforting an elderly patient complaining of seeing things that aren’t there the next.
He manages to find time, with other staffers, to pull weeds from between the squash and cantaloupes in the office garden, or to check the acrylic plastic boxes that turn out uniquely square watermelons.
Many who pass the doctor’s office daily get a kick out of the rockfish at the end of Lewis’ drive. It’s an unusual fish story: The creation started out as a float in a parade in Reedville.
Lewis, who stored it one winter in a barn, asked if he could have it as a conversation piece.
Having left an practice he operated previously in nearby Burgess, Lewis was under some restrictions on how he could market his new office.
First, he put a boat out there that many people knew was his. Later came the huge “Dr. Lewis” sign painted on a barn.
In between came the big fish, which started as a bluefish until he gave it a white skin and painted on dark stripes.
He adds props to the fish every few weeks to illustrate a new catchphrase on an adjacent sign.
He’s put put out an infant doll for “Rock Me Baby,” an Elvis for “Rock ’N’ Roll,” and countless other items for “Rock of Gibraltar,” “Rock and a Hard Place,” “Rock the Boat,” “Rock of Ages,” “Rock the Cradle” and more.
Many wonder how he finds time to make the props, to see the patients or to pursue the 10 projects he always seems to be working on at once.
“Things you care about, you find time to do,” said Lewis, who notes that early mornings are his thing.
Sure, he acknowledges that he’s had and still has his share of toys, from the rows of pinball machines in his basement to a handful of boats, including a uniquely appointed power-sailer he keeps in Reedville.
“Life’s too short not to have some fun now and then,” he says with the smile that patients and friends say reflects his natural state.
Sometimes, the fun mixes with a concern for others, like the project he’s now pursuing to help local watermen develop a market for cow-nosed rays, which devour oysters.
As part of that effort, he developed a way to mix ground ray wing with hamburger to make “rayburgers.”
“Tasted just like hamburgers,” he said, “though I couldn’t get my wife to try one.”
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415
LEWIS FUN AND FACTS
BURMA SHAVE SIGNS: On the driveway in: “The gravel flies when you drive past.” “Please go slow, to make this old road last.” “If you’re driving fast, it’s because you’re late.” “Remember it’s a doctor’s office; you’ll probably have to wait.”
Going out: “Please go slowly, read the signs.” “This old lane will be just fine.” “We hope you’ll feel a lot better, after you take your pill.” “Hope you don’t get sick again, when you get the bill.”
ODDS AND ENDS
License tag: Say Ahhhh
His basement museum: Items range from antique medical implements to pictures of Fleeton and Reedville watermen to a one-of-a-kind 11-barrel shotgun that his father, fish boat captain Wallace Lewis, created and affixed to the bow of a skiff for hunting ducks and geese.
Pinball and video games: These can be found in his office, his boat, his home and out in the re-created lighthouse at the end of Lewis pier on the point in Fleeton.
Tools: Can be found at his office, the former seafood business he still visits and his home, where the workshop door has a porthole on it.
Secret to soft-serve ice cream machine: “You have to use the mix with the higher fat content. That’s what makes it taste good.”