Deceased December 12, 2015
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Roscoe (Ros) came to Amherst in 1956 from the Groton School, where he was their first black student, and he continued this tradition by becoming the first of his ethnicity to be accepted in the national fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon. But he frankly preferred reading science fiction, civil war history, downing a few foamies, singing Harry Belafonte duets in the shower, and in general keeping a low, always friendly profile, than assuming the far graver position as example, far less on-duty advocate, for “his race.”
Ros, whom classmates will likely remember as a tall, rangy, affable, and very likable guy, at Amherst, had a powerful natural intellect and, for that matter, athletic prowess (he’d been a varsity football player and basketball player at Groton), but it’s not entirely unfair to suggest that he did not always feel driven to exercise either of these assets in full measure during his Amherst years. In fact, he achieved a measure of notoriety by being the first, and possibly only, member of our class to be suspended for “underachieving” with a B average.
For the first quarter century of his life after graduating with the class of 1961, Ros, who started out as a junior Washington Post reporter, became a Foreign Service Officer, whose various postings ranged between Washington, at State and the Pentagon; Guyana, for two years; further specialized training at the Armed Forces Staff College and in computers, at MIT; and a burgeoning specialization in systems analysis, first in Bangkok, where he also faced the dissolution of his relationship with Anne Ekstrom, a Smith graduate he’d married in 1964.
At about that time, even to best friends, Ros back-swept his trail pretty effectively, until shortly before his death. Even though he was intellectually and philosophically wise beyond his years—teaching, for instance, an almost Zen approach to adversity that consisted of minimizing the problem at hand by imagining yourself hundreds of miles in space, looking back in the Earth’s and your own relative smallness in the scheme of things—there was something in the mix of his personal and professional life that kept him not so much from friends, as from communicating with them.
And so it is both inevitable and right that the rest of who Roscoe Lewis was, and what he did, be told by his son Daniel, as follows:
“My mom returned with me to the States, and my dad moved on to his next foreign posting—the Philippines. I went to Groton School following in my Dad’s footsteps (co-incidentally the worst four years of my life), and my Dad met and married his second wife, Virginia (Vee for short). Vee had two children of her own, a boy and a girl, whom my Dad adopted.
"To me, the best thing about him was his intelligence and insight. The man was a voracious reader and technophile. The reading had always been his, but the technophile part he acquired from a year’s stint at MIT during the mid-'70s when he (correctly) saw the way the world was heading and convinced the Government that they needed to be on the forefront of it and that they also needed to send him to school to learn all about it (“it” being computer systems, of course).
"That's what I will miss the most about him. Knowing that I could call him up, ask about anything from what books he’d been reading to what he thought about the most recent political issues, and get back a thoroughly in-depth, logical, and reasoned analysis. In short, he never ever drank the Kool-Aid, and I am so very, very grateful that he passed on those abilities and values to me. He was also of course a huge football fan and followed the NFL and the Redskins in particular. So with that said, over the past three decades or so:
"In 1989 he returned with Vee and his two adopted children to the U.S. At that time Dad began working in Rosslyn, VA, finishing out his years at the Department of State. After doing the math (he always did the math) he figured out that it was cheaper for him to retire than it was to continue working, so in 1992, he did just that.
"He packed up his family and moved them to Albuquerque, N.M., where he purchased a house in Sandia Knolls on the eastern side of the Sandia Mountains, outside of town. He lived there for the next five years until Vee convinced him to move down into Albuquerque proper to be closer to city amenities. In the meantime, she had obtained a job with the Federal government, and so began a short period, around 2000, during which they moved back to Maryland. Whereupon my Dad swiftly remembered exactly why it was that he left in the first place and so, in 2002, he moved back to New Mexico again, while Vee stayed in D.C. to work. Eventually she retired as well and moved back to New Mexico around 2004, where they lived together in a house in Rio Rancho, a suburb of Albuquerque. By this time, her two children had had children of their own, and Dad apportioned his time between being a grandfather to them and working on the technophile aspects of his life.
"Between reading and technology a singular invention came about that would dominate much of the remainder of his time: the Amazon Kindle. I bought him one for his birthday, in 2008, and he probably spent the bulk of his expendable retirement income lining the pockets of various authors, publishers, and Amazon shareholders. In 2012 my Dad was diagnosed with the peripheral vascular disease that ultimately led to several severe leg infections that would plague him for the remainder of his time. In 2013 he split from his wife and moved to Florida to be closer to his brother, who had retired to Ocala some years earlier. He lived there for the next two years until the infections finally became more than his body could battle, and he eventually elected, in December of 2015, to go to hospice and move on.”
His passing has left a considerable mark, for he was a most considerable man.
C. Stephen Baldwin ’60