Ossie Lewis—adding even more to an illustrious life
It's a perfect day in August-- mild sunshine and a gentle breeze—as former magistrate Ossie Lewis cheerfully settles down on a bench in a shady spot in the Botanical Gardens to chat about his life.
It's an absorbing story. Cricket, bodybuilding, sports commentary, calypso adjudication, calypso commentary—he's embraced all with passion, skill and distinction. And he's done it while making his mark in disparate careers as an auditor and a magistrate!
Born in Kings Hill, the ninth of 10 children, Lewis is more of a Newtown boy having moved there at age five. His childhood home was on Cornwall Street where the Harlem Plaza is now. Newtown Savannah was virtually at his doorstep.
"The Savannah was my backyard….I could roam on the Savannah. That was my playground. I played all my cricket there," he says. He instinctively went to the savannah almost every day after school, which led to a successful sojourn as a cricketer.
As a 17-year-old Dominica Grammar School student he represented Dominica at the Windward Islands Secondary School Games in Grenada. Then he made the senior national cricket team in 1960, becoming vice-captain in 1961. That year, he also made the Windward Islands team.
A gifted opening batsman and canny off-spin bowler, he played international cricket until 1964. He recalls playing against famous cricketers like Everton Weekes of Barbados, The Nawab of Pataudi Jr. and Abbas Ali Baig of India and Ray Lindwall of Australia.
In 1964, declining eyesight began to affect his cricket performances and eventually brought an end to his career as a player. But Lewis happily shifted gear and became a commentator in 1968, fulfilling a dream he had since he was seven years old.
Lewis chuckles as he reflects on his commentating debut. "I was nervous, shaking like a leaf….it was a 'tea time summary' and I had to write down every word. . ." Nevertheless, he nailed it!
By 1969, Lewis was a ball-by-ball commentator. Since then, he has given commentary on first-class matches across the Caribbean. Indeed, Lewis still does cricket commentary and even widened his scope to include football, boxing, basketball and netball.
Known for his precise articulation and keen awareness of the game's finer points, Lewis was named Dominica's Sports Commentator of the Year for eight consecutive years. It all began with the first cricket commentary he ever heard.
He recalls it vividly. "Weekes, Worrel and Walcott and the 'spin twins' Ramadin and Valentine . . . beat England at Lords, the Mecca of cricket . . . everyone was joyous and exultant… they made calypsos on that,"
Legendary commentator John Arlott eloquently described the game and sparked young Lewis's interest in commentary, an interest he fulfills with great devotion to this day.
Lewis enjoyed his cricket, but he had to get a job; so he joined the civil service as a clerical officer and put off studying for a degree.
"I just kept putting it back. I felt I loved my cricket, I loved my sports and my job…I just didn't think at that time I was going to study for any particular profession."
He, however, took every opportunity to do courses and examinations, which helped to propel him in the field of accountancy.
Success in multiple courses and exams resulted in rapid promotions. In just seven years, when he was about 30 years old, he became deputy Auditor General (AG) and in time, he became AG.
Yet, he felt drawn to study law and was uncomfortable about retiring at age 55. He told himself, "'Do something boy! Do your law!"
Lewis remembers starting to study at his kitchen table where there was the brightest light. He studied for three hours a day, pacing himself so his studies were never a strain.
Discipline was the key to success, and after about four years, Lewis earned his external LLB degree from London University-with honours.
Just before retiring from the post of Auditor General, Lewis left for the Hugh Wooding Law School in 1997. In late 1999, he was called to the Bar, becoming a Magistrate in January 2000.
Lewis says it was a smooth transition from accountancy to law because of his maturity, experience and wealth of civil service knowledge.
He eventually spent 14 years on the bench, then Government declined to renew his contract for reasons he never understood, especially because there was a shortage of magistrates.
Ideally there should be five magistrates and one chief magistrate, he explains, but usually there are only three. Roseau magistrates also preside in Portsmouth, thus the workload is heavy.
He is satisfied with his tenure and says the backlog of cases is one of his chief concerns, but given the constraints, this is not necessarily anyone's fault.
However, since leaving the magistracy he has more time to help develop the calypso art form. Calypsonians are messengers, he says, refinements of 'town criers' who used to walk with bells, shouting out news, important announcements and messages.
Bathroom singing mishaps made Lewis abandon the idea of being a calypsonian, but his love for the art form inspired him to become involved in other ways.
He judged calypso competitions from the 1960s to the mid-1980s, even holding workshops for calypsonians. And from the mid-1980s to now, Lewis has been a perceptive calypso commentator.
A longtime member of the DBS Radio calypso broadcast team, a disagreement last Carnival influenced him to move to Q95 FM Radio, he says.
Although he loves calypso, there is a special place in his heart for bodybuilding, which piqued his interest while he was still a teen.
Lewis describes bodybuilding as a "rudder" in his life. Requiring significant commitment and discipline, he says it encompasses weight training, diet, sleep, rest and positive thinking.
Gym sessions made him feel good about himself, he says, "If there was anything I could do over again, I would choose bodybuilding," he notes.
As his own worst critic, he is not easily satisfied with what he does. Consistently setting high standards for himself, he hopes his work and legacy would be a positive influence to others.
Lewis asserts that he is still learning, still improving as he seeks to add even more to his already illustrious life.
By Gwen Evelyn