On Sept. 9, Idyllwild lost a legend. Dorothy Swain Lewis, “Dot” to all those who knew her, passed quietly at home while son Albert Lewis held her hand and reminisced about their lives together. Dot lived life large in every way. At 97 years, 11 months and nine days young, there were few things that Dot had not done, few challenges she had not met, and few walls she did not scale. Age didn’t seem to concern Dot too much; at 96 she went horseback riding, and on her 97th birthday she flew a B-19 Beechcraft Sport with pilot Garrett Woods of Idyllwild.
Dot was born in 1915 in Asheville, N.C. After graduating from Randolph Macon College for Women in 1936, she studied art at New York Art Students League. In 1940, she took flying lessons and in 1942, she began working with the Piper Aircraft Company in Pennsylvania. In 1943 Dot joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots program during World War II. As a WASP, Dot flew a variety of aircraft — P-40, P-63 and B-26. The WASPs were disbanded in 1944 but Dot continued as a flight instructor and participated in several airshows with some of her WASP colleagues. Dot was also a member of the “First All Woman Air Show” in Tampa, Fla. in 1947.
Dot loved teaching and it seems there were few subjects in which she did not excel. As an instructor at the Orme School in Arizona, Dot taught art, horsemanship, flying, biology, physics and history. She also created the Orme Fine Arts Festival that is in its 45th year. The festival attracts renowned artists who share their love and passion for art with Orme students. Dot also taught art at the Idyllwild Arts campus and made Idyllwild her permanent home in 1977. Dot designed the Idyllwild home that “she left on a gurney draped in an American Flag,” wrote son Albert, honoring her service as a WASP.
With acclaim, awards and accomplishments too numerous to list, Dot was indeed a legend. She also was a mother, a friend and a mentor to many.
“I think it has to do with beauty,” said Albert. “She could see the beauty in people. It’s a special skill and people react to that. Because she was engaged and she liked people it resulted in many people who just enjoyed her presence. I was mighty lucky to have her as my mother.”
Dot’s studio is filled with art, all kinds of art — sculptures, paintings, portraits, mosaics, etchings, etc. She lived surrounded by the natural beauty of Idyllwild and the beauty of the art she created.
Perhaps Dot’s friends and loved ones, from the Lewis’ Facebook page, say it best:
Ginna Arnold Lazar: Dot, may this passage give you wings to soar above us all. Ever watchful … my beloved advisor … thank you!”
Libby Roonery: “… I just remembered how she whistled like I have never heard anyone whistle. She was my art teacher and she was one of the few who ‘saw’ me. It meant so much to me.”
Galen Justice: “What a zest for life … an inspiration for us all.”
Helen Lucas Hall: “She was fun, funny and talented and passed those traits, among many others, to you [Albert].”
“Hers was the beauty of a life well lived, beauty that we felt in her presence, beauty that we want for ourselves in our relations with others, and a beauty that we want to see in the world. That’s my mother,” wrote son Albert as a part of his remarks at her Sept. 15 memorial service.
“That’s the kind of beauty I am speaking of. Embedded in my mother’s most important skill: to see the real, legitimate beauty in each person she met.”