Mesa Musings: Division chairman lives on in memorial

Charles H. Lewis and his wife, Pauline, were killed 32 years ago this week by a drunk driver who ran a red light , but Chuck's spirit remains alive at Orange Coast College.

A year after the accident, OCC's Applied Science Building was named in his honor. He had been an OCC professor for nearly 31 years.

On Feb. 18, 1979, a Sunday, Chuck and Pauline, were thrown from their two-door sedan in a grinding collision in Fullerton. Chuck died instantly; Pauline succumbed to her injuries 40 minutes later at a hospital.

Their children, Charlene, 14, and Glenn, 12, were hospitalized, but survived.

Charlene and Glenn's aunt and uncle, Gerry and Bettie Ellis, raised them. Bettie was Chuck's sister. Gerry was an engineering professor at OCC.

Word of the tragedy traveled quickly across the campus the day after the crash. Students and staff members were stunned.

Chuck had played an instrumental role in establishing OCC. He was a member of the faculty when the college opened its doors in September 1948 and served with distinction for 29 years as chairman of the physical sciences and mathematics division.

Four days after the accident, at Fullerton's First United Methodist Church, the Rev. Brian Sanderson read Christ's words from the Gospel of John: "Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me … when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."

Sanderson spoke healing words to a grieving community.

It came down to simple math, really; a formula the OCC sciences and math dean understood implicitly: that faith — no matter the situation —- begets hope. Chuck was many things, and, most notably, he was a man of faith.

An Orange County native, Chuck was born and raised in Fullerton. His father, Glenn H. Lewis, was an educator for more than four decades and served as principal of Fullerton High School for many years.

Tall and gangly, Chuck loved sports and was an enthusiastic — if not gifted — high school athlete. He earned an associate's degree in mathematics at Fullerton College and attended Whittier College for a year before joining the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942. He served as an Air Force meteorologist in China, Burma and India.

He returned home to earn his bachelor's in math at Whittier, and picked up a master's in math and meteorology from Caltech. He also studied at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Charles taught math at Bakersfield College from 1947-48, then was recruited to the new community college in Orange County. He became a charter OCC faculty member at the 27.

Chuck began his OCC career as a math instructor. In 1950 he was named chairman of the physical sciences and mathematics division, a post he held until his death.

Lewis was OCC's most eligible bachelor for nearly 15 years. In 1963, he announced his engagement to Pauline. He was 42; she 28. He took a one-semester sabbatical and, for their honeymoon, they spent six months traveling the globe.

Chuck established and maintained OCC's meteorological station for many years, providing the local community with information on Costa Mesa's rainfall and temperatures.

Most appropriately, the 1979 memorial service program for Chuck and Pauline featured an inspirational cover photo. It was the picture of a grove of California redwoods. Shafts of sunlight angled through the majestic branches. The image served as a fitting representation of Chuck's character.

Chuck was a deep thinker, serious academician, exceptional administrator and man of integrity and strength. He also possessed an enduring faith.

The Scriptures speak of the fruitfulness of a tree planted by streams of water. Chuck was such a tree.

A California redwood!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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