By Jon Evans | November 12, 2020 at 5:19 PM EST – Updated November 16 at 11:58 PM
BOLIVIA, N.C. (WECT) – Brunswick County commissioners voted 4:1 in favor of renaming the county courthouse in honor of the late Judge Ola Lewis, who passed away in December 2019 after a battle with liver cancer, at a meeting Monday evening. Commissioner Pat Sykes cast the dissenting vote because she doesn’t believe buildings should be named after people.
Ola Lewis began her law career in 1990, and worked as an assistant district attorney serving in Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties from 1991-1993. Gov. Jim Hunt appointed her to the District Court Bench in 1993, making her the first woman and first African-American Judge in the 13th Judicial District. Seven years later, Gov. Hunt appointed Judge Lewis to the Superior Court Bench in the same district.
Judge Lewis was elected resident Superior Court judge in 2002, and in 2010 she ran unopposed for senior resident Superior Court judge. She went on to create several problem-solving courts in her home district including Drug Treatment Court, DWI Treatment Court, Domestic Violence Treatment Court, and a Sex Offender Accountability and Recovery Court (SOAR). Judge Lewis also made a major impact on battling the drug epidemic by helping start the Brunswick County Opioid Addiction Task Force, to deal with drug and mental health issues.
“She made everyone feel good,” said Brunswick County Commissioner Marty Cooke. But the other thing about it that some people won’t understand is—that really nice person that everyone liked could be someone that you didn’t want to tangle with in the court room…because that was the other side of her. She was a serious jurist because…people that didn’t have to see that side probably didn’t realize that…she was very serious. She was very good at what she did and that’s why she became what she did.”
“She was loved,” said her close friend Althea Weaver. “Everyone who sought her services; everyone who went through the programs that she loved, the programs that she created… As Commissioner Forte said, there were so many people that said she had saved their lives. I know her passion for helping people who struggled with addiction.”
In May, commissioners approved putting a plaque in the lobby of the courthouse to honor Judge Lewis, once crews complete phase one of the courthouse renovations.
At their meeting on Nov. 2, commissioners directed the county staff to provide options regarding naming the courthouse after her.
The husband of the late Judge Ola M. Lewis, Reginald Holley, released this statement regarding the renaming of the Brunswick County Courthouse to Honor Judge Ola M. Lewis.
“My late wife, the Honorable Ola M. Lewis, was a woman of tremendous grace. Though she used her abilities as a judge to protect law and order in Brunswick County, more importantly, she used the court as an opportunity to change lives for the better. Her court helped countless men and women form new paths that took them away from the clinches of addiction, brokenness, and recidivism, to instead lead productive, sober, and law-abiding lives. Transforming lives otherwise neglected by our turbulent world is not a trivial task. Ola did this with uncompromising energy, intellect, and spirit. Her love for the people of Brunswick County was unparalleled, and she was always seeking ways to use her bench to serve the whole community. Like many great people, Ola was a bold leader, and she served the people of Brunswick County with humility and grace. For the Brunswick County Courthouse to be renamed after my wife is much more than a gesture—it is both a beacon and a talisman—a reminder in perpetuity of the love Judge Lewis had for the community to which she was tirelessly devoted. As the youngest appointed judge in the state’s history, who served the longest of any female judge in North Carolina, her life was committed to serving the people of Brunswick County. My family and I are humbled by the decision of the Brunswick County Commissioners. We will never cease to remember her ability to recognize the potential and humanity of each person, and how that ability changed so many lives.”
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