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John Lewis’ Deputy Chief of Staff: ‘He’s Just as You May Imagine, But Better’

‘He was a gentleman’
By Grabien Staff


THOMPSON: “Good afternoon. I have on two masks because I have Mr. Lewis’ voice in my head and he would say, ‘Be particular.’ My name is Jamila Thompson. And on on behalf of the staff, I would like to thank John Myles and the entire Lewis family for the honor and the privilege of sharing the congressman and Mrs. Lewis, who was his partner in life and in public service with generations of the staff for the last 33 years and the celebration of his life and his legacy. The congressman would want me to tell you, as I look at you today in his favorite color that you look good, you look fresh, you look clean, you look beautiful. Thank you. We are honored to serve you and we were honored to serve him. We would also like to express our sincere and our great appreciation to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Majority Leader, the Majority Whip, the clerk of the House of Representatives, the Office of Employee Assistance, the Congressional Black Caucus, and all of your amazing staff for your patience and your guidance during this very difficult time.

People always ask us, what was it like to work for Congressman Lewis? What was he like up close? What was he like in real life? It is too difficult to explain so our answer was always the same. He’s just as you may imagine, but better. And that no day was ever the same. What you know about the congressman is true. He was a gentleman. He was truly of the people and a peaceful soul. When he came into the office every single day, he would greet every staffer, every fellow, every intern with a ‘Good morning, sir,’ a ‘Good morning, ma’am.’ He would end every request, every successful speech, every successful bill, every hearing, every markup, with, ‘Thank you. Thank you, young brother. Thank you, sister. Thank you, my child, my dear.’ As staff we felt it was our duty to create and maintain a space where the congressman could be completely and wholly himself.

In college, we often say there’s the freshman 15 that you gain a little bit around. Well, in our office there was the John Lewis 20 because he and Michael would bring in lunch and far, far too often desert because some cake or some pie or some brownie would be calling out to them in the grocery store and they would want everyone to come together and sit down and share a meal. We were a little family, a little enclave, a lot of drama, a lot of fun, and so much love. He broke down those work barriers and he welcomed our parents, our spouses, our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, our God children and our friends into the circle, making them fall equally in awe of his greatness. Sometimes the world got a little glimpse of our nest during these impromptu gatherings and certain videos may go viral. We were like a well-oiled machine when it came to policy and case work.

Although we were like that in public, he enjoyed stirring things up in the office. You might call him a little bit of an instigator. He would get us in trouble with Michael. Try and corner us with questions and stir things up. And with time you knew not to take the bait. And you would learn to say, oh, no, congressman, you’re not going to get me today. And he would laugh. I think that that’s what I’m going to miss the most. I’m going to miss his laugh. And not the one that you see on television. You know, but the one where he would be sitting back and shooting the wind and he would throw back his head and he would just laugh from his heart, from his belly, from his soul. So many workers are often taught to be invisible. But with Mr. Lewis, he always saw you and made you feel special and worthy. Dr. King and Rosa Parks spent time with him as a teenager and it changed the course of his life.”

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