IROQUOIS – Seaway District High School teacher Mark Lewis, after three decades in education, has, as a special video created by Kevin Kennedy put it, “decided to ride off into the sunset.”
On June 23, 2017, fellow teachers, family and friends gathered at the Cedar Glen Golf Course to honour “Tex” for his dedication to teaching and for the impact he has had on the lives of generations of young people in this area.
“I’ve had a very satisfying career,” Lewis said during an interview with The Leader. “Looking back, there might be some things I might have done differently. There are no manuals for being a guidance counsellor.
But the truth is, I think I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s been a blessed career. And I’ve had some wonderful mentors along the way.”
Born in Temple, Texas, (the origin of his nickname among staff and students), Lewis has two brothers and a sister.
He laughed that education was probably in his blood as both his grandmother and his father were teachers.
However, his passion for coaching was his initial reason for going into education as a career.
He taught middle school physical education in Texas, until he moved to Canada in 1991, where he joined the old SD&G Board teaching math, English and one phys. ed. class at North Dundas High School. Following that, he was at Gananoque.
In 1994, Mark transferred to Rothwell-Osnabruk, joining the teaching staff literally the day before classes started in September.
“I found myself assigned to Canadian politics and history, and an advanced English course. Actually, the first two words I had to teach the kids were ‘y’all’ and ‘ain’t’,” Lewis laughed.
He did hours and hours of prep work for his courses. Versatility, and a willingness to accept challenges became part of his teaching credo.
“For the four years I was at R-O, I taught everything from media and computer studies to parenting, anything but phys. ed. And actually, it was great,” Lewis said. “I learned a lot. And I think it made me much more aware of what being a Canadian means.”
Former Seaway physical education department head Irv Francis, who had seen Lewis coaching at a number of inter-school events, introduced him to then Seaway principal Doug Murray, who offered him a position at Seaway.
“Interestingly, Doug retired that same summer,” Lewis said, “and seven new teachers, including me, came to Seaway under Larry Poirier. Larry was my first Seaway principal in 1997.”
Except for a brief stint at South Grenville (“I thought I might like to be an administrator and I felt I needed to work with different administrators for experience. I ultimately decided administration was not for me.”), Lewis has been at Seaway since 2008.
Roy Lalonde was principal when Mark rejoined the Seaway staff.
“Roy was looking for a guidance counsellor,” Lewis explained. “I had always been deeply interested in guidance, and by my second year at Seaway, I was in a guidance position, and taking specialist training in guidance.” He was also deeply committed to coaching.
“Roy and I had a frank discussion when he offered me the job. I wanted to stay involved in sports, and also E.O.S.S.A.A (Eastern Ontario Secondary Schools Athletic Association) and O.F.S.A.A. (Ontario Federation of Schools Athletic Association). I wanted to keep that aspect of my career going, and Roy agreed to that.”
His passion for basketball and his expertise in track meant that Lewis was always at the forefront of physical education at Seaway. He coached boys and girls, and spent hours working with young people, helping them to achieve their goals. In a 2015 Leader article, Lewis said “You don’t coach to win, you coach to teach. And then you give them the test of the game.”
In 2015, Lewis was awarded a coveted Ontario Coaching Excellence Award by the Coaches Association of Ontario.
He was also a ‘coach’ for students in the guidance office as well.
“I got to help kids in a very different way, than in any other educational aspect.
Guidance can be a bit like coaching basketball. You never know what the other team will throw at you, and problems must sometimes be solved on the fly.
The biggest thing I loved was building relationships with people. As a guidance counsellor, you often end up being a purveyor of information. And, while administrations may come and go, guidance in a school is persistent.”
Now that he and his wife, Wendy, are both retired, future plans are unfolding.
They are Grand-daddy and Nana to four, and hope to spend time with their grandchildren. Mark’s parents live in Colorado, and they want to spend time with them. He is also committed to South Dundas Anglican parish work.
Retirement does not mean inactivity. “After a year or so, I’ll find out what interests me, and what else I want to get involved in,” Lewis said.
Tex is keeping his spurs handy.