A Century of Advocacy: Celebrating Margaret K. Lewis

Josh Duke



Margaret K. Lewis, a pioneer in the field of special education and alumna of the FSU College of Education, passed away on Feb. 22 at the age of 100.

Lewis graduated in 1939 from what was then known as the Florida State College for Women. She went on to become a special education teacher in Panama City, advocating for students with special needs who were traditionally barred from attending public schools and kept out of public view. She was firm in her belief that all students had a right to a good education and fought tirelessly to ensure just that.

Oak Grove Elementary School, which had traditionally served black students, was left empty due to desegregation, so in 1969, Lewis moved her students in, providing them with their own space to learn. In 1980, it was renamed in her honor as Margaret K. Lewis School, where it continues to serve students with special needs today. Although Lewis retired in 1983, she continued to visit the school on a regular basis, and until very recently, was an active member of the school advisory Council.

Fellow FSU College of Education alumna Cathy Felty (B.S. '97, M.S. '00), a media specialist at Margaret K. Lewis School and the 2018 Teacher of the Year for Bay County Schools, remembers Lewis fondly.

“Although Margaret and I first met professionally, it turned out she was my neighbor. Over the years, we became friends. I’m forever grateful for the lessons she taught me about living one’s life in service to other people, about how all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and that we should never take ourselves too seriously. I will miss her wisdom.”

In addition to her advocacy for students, Lewis was a supporter of other community causes as well. She has been recognized by the Democratic Women’s Society and the National Organization for Women for her work. She believed that the arts were important to a community and supported numerous performing and visual arts organization throughout Panama City.

Just as she gave of herself in her career, she continues to give to others through her generosity in the form of the Margaret K. and Fred S. Lewis Endowed Scholarship for special education at Florida State University. Numerous students in FSU's special education program have benefitted from this scholarship, which helps to offset their financial burden as they enter into the field of special education teaching.