When Gregory Lewis joined the Sun Sentinel 10 years ago as a reporter covering the African-American community, he introduced himself to the politicians, business people and civic leaders who make news in South Florida.
Then he visited the barber shops, stopped by the funeral parlors, lunched at the Elks Club, and walked Sistrunk Boulevard to get to know the people who live in the neighborhoods. And there he found his best material.
"He was a passionate reporter who loved going out and getting stories," said colleague Douglas Lyons. "And because of that, Greg really became the face of the newspaper for a part of our community."
Richard Gregory "Greg" Lewis died of cancer on Tuesday at Memorial Hospital West. A resident of Cooper City, he was 57.
"It's people like Greg who give us the opportunity to open people's eyes and see what's going on," said Christopher McDonald, owner of the Cut N Corners barber shop in Pembroke Pines.
Mr. Lewis' passion was day-to-day life in the black community, which he eagerly mined for narrative gems. He wrote about women's book clubs, the controversy over ebonics, and Double Dutch jump rope teams. He wrote the obituary of a man who left 379 grandchildren when he died at 98.
"Greg wrote from his soul," said Noreen Marcus, his longtime editor at the Sun Sentinel. "He wanted to educate, to bear witness, and he succeeded."
When the newspaper went digital, Mr. Lewis was an early blogger, and his "Strictly Old School" was a perfect forum for a natural storyteller, a man of varied interests who loved to talk. Many of his blog posts were devoted to inducting his musical favorites into his Old School Hall of Fame: Ray Charles, The Isley Brothers, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield and dozens more.
To his younger colleagues, Mr. Lewis was a mentor. "His motto was always, 'Keep it simple,' " said reporter Georgia East. "He was very nurturing, helping with ideas about writing, about keeping good contacts."
Born in 1954 at Fort Knox, Ky., Mr. Lewis grew up an Army brat as he and his mother Della followed his father Richard Venton Lewis to posts around the U.S. and in Germany. When his father died in 1966, he, his mother and a younger sister were living in Thomasville, N.C.
Mr. Lewis considered Thomasville his hometown. He attended both segregated and integrated schools at a time, as he once wrote, "when a parent's word was law and neighborhood men made sure kids didn't get lost in the streets."
He earned a degree at Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va., then got a job at the local paper and found his calling.
Other stops in his 30-year career included Washington, D.C., Berkeley, Calif., where he worked for the Robert C. Maynard Institute of Journalism Education, and Greensboro, N.C., where he taught at North Carolina A&T while working as a reporter at the News & Record.
"He was a lot of fun, the most cheerful guy I ever worked with," said Mike Vogel of Florida Trend, who shared an office with Mr. Lewis in the News & Record's High Point bureau. "When a story was going right, or when he got a quote he needed, he had this wonderful laugh."
At the San Francisco Examiner in the 1990s, Mr. Lewis also covered the minority community.
"He was known as the mayor of the newsroom," recalled Sharon Rosenhause, a colleague in San Francisco and at the Sun Sentinel, where she was managing editor. "He would work the room like a politician, getting to know everyone's story, what they were working on."
During the two years he suffered from cancer along with chronic diabetes, "Greg never lost his fighting spirit," said Chandra, his wife of 27 years. "He was a spiritual man, with a strong faith in God that never wavered."
In addition to his wife, survivors include daughter Gina, 22, of Boston; son Desmond, 17; sister Candy Dingle, of Palm City; mother Della Lewis Hayes and stepfather Nathaniel Hayes, of Thomasville, and a host of other relatives and friends.
A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Benedict's Episcopal Church, 7801 NW Fifth St., Plantation.