He was always a brilliant student. Dr. Amos Sawyer, a fellow Sinoe boy who schooled with Johnnie Lewis, once confided to the Daily Observer that Johnnie, who always liked the good life, would spend a lot of time enjoying himself; yet once in class he did extremely well.
It was this academic brilliance that led him to the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law (LAGSL), where he did exceptionally well, enabling him to gain admission to one of the world’s top Law schools, Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.
On his return, he was appointed Circuit Judge, a position held by his late father, Roderick N. Lewis. But Johnnie also returned to his alma mater, the LAGSL, where he taught many of the lawyers practicing today, including most of those on the Supreme Court bench.
When Phillip Banks, another whiz kid, graduated with honors from LAGSL, he won the enviable admissions to both Harvard and Yale Law Schools; but his teacher, Cllr. Lewis, advised him to choose Yale. We will not say why, lest we run the risk of offending some of the Harvard-trained counselors in the Liberian Bar.
Banks went to Yale and performed so well that his professors found him a full fellowship to do his doctorate in Law. But again, Cllr. Lewis advised his student to return straight home for reasons we will not mention, lest we offend some Liberian PhDs. Banks obeyed his teacher and swiftly returned home. Not long thereafter Banks was called to the Deanship of Louis Arthur Grimes. But after Samuel Doe’s brutal raid on the University of Liberia on August 22, 1984, the entire UL administration was removed and Johnnie Lewis was appointed LAGSL Dean.
During the civil war the United Nations employed him as Legal Advisor. In 2006 President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called him home to head the Liberian Judiciary.
In 2013, due to ill health, Chief Justice Lewis resigned. His demise on Wednesday evening surprised only few, for most people knew that His Honor was not well.
We pray that Liberian students will emulate the effective use Counselor Lewis made of his academic brilliance. Many Liberian students possess this gift of brilliance, bestowed upon them by God Himself. But what are they doing with it? Lest we forget, God did not make everyone that way. Most of the students in any class do not make all A’s; nevertheless, God did not cheat anyone. He gave to everyone a gift. Our job is to find out what that gift is and pursue it conscientiously and diligently, and God will do the rest. He will lead us in the way He wants us to go, as He has led many throughout history. Remember there was only one Solomon, but the same Bible records many great individuals, men and women.
We appeal to all Liberian students, as they return to school, to take their studies seriously, apply themselves and do their very best. Shun the good time and study and work very hard. Not everyone can be a Johnnie Lewis.
The second and last point we wish to make about him is that, unlike most Liberians, he loved to write. So despite his busy schedule throughout his professional life as a jurist, he found time to write—not only his opinions as judge and Chief Justice, but also for the benefit of law students.
He wrote several textbooks, which should be used in Law Schools not only in Liberia but in any law school around the world. They include Estates and Trusts and Criminal Law.
Most unfortunately, too many of our lawyers are too busy chasing money and find little time to write about their experiences in the Law, for the benefit of students of the law and posterity.
In this, Counselor Johnnie Lewis followed the examples of some of his great juridical forebears, including T. McCants Stewart, Louis Arthur Grimes and Attorney General, and later Chief Justice James A.A. Pierre, all of whose Opinions and other works are still used in Law School and the courts.
We hope that today and tomorrow’s students and lawyers will emulate Johnnie Lewis’ outstanding legacy as jurist and law book author.