Dwight D. Lewis
Fair Chance at a Better Life
When Dwight Lewis says his election challenge for Volusia County Council District 1 is about “leadership, not membership,” the former council chairman isn’t spouting a clever political slogan. He’s describing his life’s work and a deep sense of responsibility to his community that began long before his first election to public office. Perhaps the desire to lead and serve began when as a boy of 6 or 7, Dwight would boldly hike alone to the old wooden Broadway Bridge over the Halifax River in Daytona Beach to catch fish for the Lewis family’s supper. Or when at age 12 he bused tables at Wagner Grill after school and weekends or later in his teens when he worked as a bell hop and a summer lifeguard on the beach.
“I always worked two jobs all of my life,” Dwight says. “I come from a background of not having anything. For years I was always concerned about being broke. I think the memory of those times drives me still in my concern for our community. I want a good community where people who are willing to try can have a fair chance at a better life.”
If that sounds like stump speech, consider this. Dwight, at age 26, had distinguished himself as Texaco’s top salesman in the entire United States and held the promise of a lucrative marketing career with the corporate giant. He was living in Miami then but wanted only to find a way to return to Volusia County and build a life here. If that life offered fewer riches, he believed it would be more enriching for the opportunities it would afford him to lead and serve the community he loved. He came home, bought a local fuel business and built it into a multi-million dollar company. He raised a family, volunteered and led wherever he could help, from school PTAs to youth sports leagues to county governing boards, and continues now in retirement to help make life better for other families in Volusia County. It is not without reason that the county earlier in this decade presented him with a hat bearing the title “Community Helper #1.”
Dwight D. Lewis was born Aug. 29, 1943, in Daytona Beach to loving and hardworking parents who would raise four children on modest means but instill in them the values of honest labor, concern for others and thrift. Young Dwight was a good student and showed athletic skill and leadership on the field as a football player and track runner at Seabreeze High School. His coaches were his role models and mentors. After graduating in 1961, Dwight enrolled at then-Daytona Beach Junior College with a goal to become a public school teacher and coach. In the classroom by day, by night he worked as a printer for General Electric Co. After graduation in 1963, G.E. awarded him a scholarship to finish his schooling. Dwight was accepted at Florida State University, where he worked many jobs to support himself en route to becoming the first member of his family to graduate college. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and returned to Volusia County, where he taught math and physical education for two years and coached football and track.
By 1968, married with young children and contemplating a change of career, Dwight applied for law school and was accepted at FSU. But before the family’s arrival in Tallahassee, he had a change of heart. He alerted the university, which had also offered him a teaching position, and returned to Central Florida, where within days Texaco Oil Company offered him the sales job in Miami. His early financial success and superlative sales accolades weren’t nearly as satisfying as the prospect of returning to Volusia County and immersing himself in community life. Once back home, he led the startup of a PTA at Mainland Junior High School. He coached in a youth football league for 10 years and served as president of the South Daytona Little League. As he built his business, his interests expanded to service through the DeLand Rotary, the DeLand Chamber of Commerce and as an officer on the board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Volusia and Flagler Counties. He and his wife, Lisa, are active members of Stetson Baptist Church.
Dwight also served on the county claims committee for almost four years where he became increasingly aware that government serves best “where common sense is common practice.” He reasoned -- and had been told by others -- that his experience in business, education and civic life equipped him well for broader public service. In 1998, Dwight decided to seek the District 1 seat on the County Council. He was elected and re-elected for four terms before term limits made him ineligible to serve again for a time. Of those eight years Dwight says he knows he wasn’t “always right” but “I always tried to do the right thing.” (He thinks he blew it in supporting the 5-cent additional county gasoline tax early in his first term but defies anyone to dispute his leadership in gaining voter approval for the Volusia Forever and ECHO special levies to preserve environmentally sensitive lands and enhance local ecological, cultural, historical and outdoor recreational amenities.)
While serving District 1, Dwight chaired almost every governmental association in the county, including the Volusia Council of Governments, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Tourism Development Council and the Public Safety Coordinating Council. Such broad leadership experience gives him exceptional perspective when considering appropriate public responses to our county’s most pressing challenges. As County Council chair during the disastrous 2004 hurricanes, Dwight was influential in bringing local mayors and other government leaders together to present a united face of reassuring leadership to Volusia citizens during those devastating weeks of loss and uncertainty.
“I have been committed to public service all my life,” Dwight says, “and will continue in public service as long as I think I can make a difference and have something to offer our community.” It’s about leadership, after all, not membership.
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