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paul lewis 1958Paul Lewis:
Good Soul
by Christopher Doty

"A thoughtful man, born with a creative incentive to do great things so impressively - inspiring and helping children and adults of all ages…"- program for Beth Emmanuel Church, April 1970

For almost sixty years, Paul Lewis was a fixture in downtown London and a welcome face to both visitors and residents.

Born in 1889 in Philadelphia, Paul arrived in London in 1914, where he found work at White's Barbershop on Dundas Street where his many customers included future big band leader Guy Lombardo. Active in the city's black community, he became a trustee at Beth Emmanuel Church. He collected funds for the church and served as its choir director, soloist and clarinet player. He also helped organize the Canadian League for the Advancement of Colored Peoples.

After the closure of White's Barbershop in 1948, Paul took a variety of odd jobs, including work as a janitor at Woolworths and Silverwoods Dairy. In later life he became a sought-after subject for photographers and painters. Some of this work went on display at national exhibitions.

Although he entertained a reputation as an actor, Paul's only known stage role was as the black gardener Genesis in the London Drama League's production of Seventeen by Booth Tarkington. He also auditioned unsuccessfully for the role of Joe in the Grand Theatre's production of Showboat in 1968.

With the death of his wife in 1959, Paul's church and friends became his life. In 1970 he was honoured by city council for "almost daily acts of cheerful goodwill." With his heath failing, Paul was forced to leave his meagre lodgings on Rectory Street and enter the Dearness home for the aged. He died there in July 1974. The money collected for his trust fund by friends was put towards a music award for Grade 12 students.

Thirty years after his death, Paul's story became part of Museum London's exhibit, People and Places: London's Black Community.