David L. Lewis of Ann Arbor, professor emeritus of business history, remembered as the world’s preeminent expert on the life of Henry Ford for more than a half century, died April 13.
He was predeceased by his wife of 69 years, Florence Yuri (Tanaka) Lewis, and survived by his children, Kim (Peter) Dunn of Ypsilanti Township; Lani (Douglas) Walczak of Farmington Hills; Sumi Lewis of Novato, California; Lance Lewis of Ann Arbor; and four grandchildren, Tyler Walczak, Christopher Tucker, Kristen Walczak and Zilei Tucker.
Lewis joined U-M in 1966 as the business school’s first director of public relations, and associate professor of business history. He previously held public relations positions with Ford Motor Co. and General Motors. He previously worked as a newspaper reporter.
Lewis went on to teach more than 25,000 students, during his more than 40-year career at the university. He was ecstatic when his close friend and fellow U-M professor, Sidney Fine, helped push through the Michigan law abolishing the requirement that teachers in the state retire at the age of 70. This allowed Lewis to teach past his 80th birthday.
In addition to being well known for his Business History, Entrepreneur in History and Global Automotive Industry courses, he also was a member of the Faculty Senate; Editorial Board of the Michigan Quarterly Review; Honorary Degrees Committee; chairman of the Business Leadership Award Committee/Honors Committee; and the University of Michigan Press Executive Committee.
Lewis authored or co-authored nine books, including “The Public Image of Henry Ford: An American Folk Hero and His Company.” He also wrote Cars & Parts magazine’s “Ford Country” column from 1974-2010, and more than 400 articles relating to Ford history topics.
David Lanier Lewis was born in Bethalto, Illinois, on April 5, 1927, and graduated from Sesser High School, leaving early in 1945 to enlist in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He completed a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, an Master of Science degree in public relations from Boston University, and a Master of Arts in history and a Ph.D. in economic history from U-M. Additionally, he attended the London School of Economics as a Fulbright Scholar.
Lewis was president of the Society of Automotive Historians; adviser to the Historic Preservation Master Plan, Ford Fair Lane Estate; trustee of the National Automotive History Collection; founding member and adviser for the National Automotive Heritage Area; a member of the American Historical Association for Economic History; founding member and historian for the Henry Ford Heritage Association; associate editor of Cars & Parts and the Model T Times; and founding trustee of the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant.
Lewis received the Benz Award of Distinction, Friend of Automotive History Award and Cugnot Award from the Society of Automotive Historians; the Duryea Award from Antique Automobile Magazine; Award of Merit from the Historical Society of Michigan; and Friend of Ford Award from the Henry Ford Heritage Association.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. June 9 at Muehlig Funeral Chapel, 403 S. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor. This service will be live streamed, and a recording will be available for those unable to attend. A full obituary and more information are available online, including memories from a number of his former students. It is hoped that more of Lewis’ students will add their memories there.
Memorial donations may be made to the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, which Lewis was instrumental in the ongoing effort to save and restore. Go to fordpiquetteplant.org/get-involved/donate/.
— Submitted by Michael Skinner