Florida Supreme Court Justice R. Fred Lewis will be in St. Petersburg on Saturday to speak at a local bar association dinner.
Lewis, 61, will be speaking about the importance of service during the St. Petersburg Bar Association's "Heroes Among Us" dinner. The event honors lawyers who volunteer their time in the community. Lewis grew up in West Virginia coal country, but moved to the Sunshine State to attend Florida Southern College. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1998. He recently spoke to the St. Petersburg Times about the heroes in his life.
Who are your heroes?
My heroes are those that take care of children. And I begin at the top with the healers of children, the doctors and nurses … those who educate children … and the professionals of all types who look after the interest of children. … In the medical field, David Stumpf out of Northwestern (University). He's been an inspiration to me.
How do you know him?
He saved the life of my youngest daughter. She had a very rare disease and back in the early 1980s she had some mysterious condition that no one seemed to understand or know where to turn. A lawyer in Miami allowed me to use his computer, and I didn't even know what a computer was really at the time. I was able to research medical journals through his computer and came up with some things that matched symptoms that she had, and allowed me to find this individual.
At the time folks were not aware of a mitochondrial condition. … Lindsay was one of the first ever to be diagnosed. She's been under his care now for 23 years. … She's legally blind and has no hearing and is in a wheelchair. But my glass is half full.
In the realm of the law do you have some heroes?
Oh sure. There was a gentleman by the name of Ed Perse, he's since passed away. … I think every young lawyer in Miami would call him from time to time not only for legal advice but for professional advice. He was just an absolute, magnificent individual and he was certainly life-changing for me because he was the pillar that I looked to for what it means to be a lawyer. Always did the right thing and was there for people …
What do you think is the public perception of lawyers?
I think it's at its lowest level. And I say that each year because I see it deteriorating in so many ways. I think the public sees the profession not as a profession but … as a business. It is truly a privilege to be a lawyer because you have such awesome responsibilities to families and businesses and citizens.
What would you say to future lawyers?
To be a good professional, that you have to have heart and you have to understand something about people. And you have to understand what it is to serve people and have a higher calling than simple greed or just a dollar. It is far, far beyond billing hours or attaining enough money to buy the biggest house or the biggest boat or the biggest car. Being a lawyer is about people. Being a lawyer is solving problems. And being a lawyer is maintaining that understanding from your heart and not from your pocketbook. …
The honorees (Eric E. Ludin and Sylvia H. Walbolt) are tremendous examples of the highest professional standards and folks that have heart.