On July 18, 2019, Belmont Abbey College said goodbye to a precious, dear member of our family. Rita Lewis, “The Face of Belmont Abbey College,” began her career at the College in August 1980, in the Alumni and Public Relations Office. Within a few months, President John Dempsey asked her to serve as his executive assistant – a role she has held for 39 years.
Widely recognized by generations of alumni and donors, Rita displayed traditional southern hospitality and warmth that have become legendary within the Abbey community. During her nearly four decades at the College, she served thirteen presidents, three abbots, and provided tireless assistance to thousands of individuals – students, staff, faculty, monks, and friends – who have repeatedly relied on her knowledge, efficiency and kindness. In addition, Rita has supported the Board of Trustees for the College since her tenure in the Office of the President began, amassing an unmatched understanding of Board procedures and history. She is a two-time recipient of the Administrative Staff Award, an honor bestowed on her by her peers. At the 2019 Commencement Rita received an honorary doctorate degree from the College in commemoration of her unwavering service.
Rooted in her faith, Rita consistently reflected the mission of Belmont Abbey College in her humility, manners, extraordinary work ethic and desire to serve. She frequently commented on her affection and appreciation for the Monastic Community, which has “always been there” for her. In turn, her constant commitment to Belmont Abbey and all that it stands for made her a special part of the heart and soul of the entire community.
The Abbey community mourns the loss of one so selfless and dedicated to our college. “Rita’s devoted service to Belmont Abbey College spans four decades. She was the welcomed countless guests and visitors with gracious Southern hospitality. Her faith and her courage in her battle with her illness was an inspiration to us all. May she be numbered among the saints and may we all be together with her there where death is no more,” said Abbot Placid Solari, O.S.B., chancellor of Belmont Abbey College.
“Rita was an incredibly faithful woman who only sought to do God’s will and love other people. She had a special way of welcoming people, especially first-time visitors, that made them feel like they had come home. She will be greatly missed,” said Belmont Abbey College president Dr. Bill Thierfelder.
“Rita’s love of the Abbey and all those she encountered was truly unfailing. From the first meeting with her some seven years ago, her life seemed to me a living tribute to her faith in God and the Benedictine Hallmark of Hospitality. There was a beautiful charm about her casting a positive light on whomever she interacted with. I know she will be greatly missed by all who had the privilege of her acquaintance. How we will miss receiving that warm, loving welcome…What a privilege to have crossed paths with this remarkable woman. Thank you dear Rita.” said Greg Swanson, VP & General Counsel.
A self-proclaimed “hometown girl,” Rita was a lifelong native to her beloved Belmont and a dedicated South Point High School Red Raiders fan. In addition, she’s particularly fond of the somewhat larger town of New York City, where she represented the College during many trips to liaise with donors – and shop for additions to her classic wardrobe and impeccable sense of style.
Rita married her high school sweetheart Kurt Lewis and enjoyed 44 years together. She is the mother of two sons, John and Randy, mother-in-law to their wives Kathryn and Cameron, and sister to Gene and his wife Janet. But her most rewarding role was grandmother to Daniel, Emmie Kate, Beckett and Maddox.
Friends will be received on Sunday, July 21, 2019 – 1:30-3:00 p.m. at South Point Baptist Church and Celebration of Life at 3:00 p.m. same location. Burial private for the family. Please share your thoughts and stories about Rita with our community below.
We are empty without you, yet fulfilled knowing your joy is complete. May God bless Rita and grant her eternal rest.