Rushing into the Marketplace in the morning, many students scurry past workers as they grab food and head off to their classes. In the midst of a busy morning routine, one smiling face accompanied by a blue collared worker’s shirt stands out. The beaming face belongs to Thomasine Lewis, service supervisor of the Marketplace and 49-year employee at the College of William and Mary.
Lewis has become a reassuring presence and longtime friend of many students and alumni at the College. In April, she will cut back on shifts and gradually retire as she approaches her 50-year service mark on Sept. 14, 2010. During her years of service to the College, working in every position from dish washer to supervisor, she has made friends with many students.
“I come here for breakfast pretty often, so I just started talking to her,” James McCulla ’10 said. “She always has a kind word for you. Sometimes, if she notices you’re sick, she will make you get an extra cup of OJ.”
A mother of three and grandmother of eight, Lewis has a natural instinct to care for others, which clearly shines through in her relationships with students and co-workers.
“I am 52, and she still treats me like one of her kids,” Carlton Watson, one of Lewis’ co-workers at the Marketplace, said. “Many of the kids who are away from home need that. She sees that you’re having a bad day, and she always tries to lift your spirits.”
Lewis’ smile and sense of humor are two things that make the Marketplace seem more like a home for many students who are away from their parents for the first time.
“I like to talk to them, listen to them, listen to their problems,” Lewis said. “I had one student this past year who graduated in December. Her parents were from another country, and they couldn’t come [to commencement] so she asked me. We fixed her hair, we fixed her face, and I went as her parent for graduation.”
From serving as a stand-in parent at graduation to just being there to hear the good and bad of a student’s day, Lewis always has time to listen to everyone who comes into the Marketplace.
“I will have had many [students] standing at the cash register talking to me with tears running down their faces, and then we get to talking,” Lewis said. “The next day they will come up to me and say, ‘Thank you, you really helped me out. I came in, and your smile brightened up my day.’ That gets it all for me.”
Lewis has seen many changes at the College over the years, and she has seen many students come in as freshmen and return years later as alumni. She didn’t realize how many alumni remembered her until she was called for jury duty at the beginning of September.
“They had sent me a summons to report for jury duty,” Lewis said. “The judge called Thomasine Lewis. I go up, and it was the judge, the commonwealth attorney and the district attorney standing there. The judge asked me if I ever worked at William and Mary, and I said, ‘Yes I did.’ He said, ‘You don’t remember any of us?’ I said, ‘No not really.’ He told me he graduated in 1971.”
She was dismissed from jury duty because the judge did not want there to be a conflict of interest. Even though she couldn’t recognize a single one of their faces, they all immediately remembered her.
“Oh my god, I got outta that courtroom, and I started hollerin’,” Lewis said. “I called everybody. I didn’t think anybody would ever remember my face just like this.”
After working at the College for the past 49 years, Lewis has seen everything, including streaking in the cafeteria.
“We were sitting in this building and a student came running in and he was streaking right through the dining room,” Lewis said. “Me and my comical self, I just got down laughing. I had to laugh because there he was in all of his glory.”
While working with young people for her entire life has allowed for many hearty laughs, it has also allowed Lewis to do what she loves most.
“She loves this line of work. She loves all of her students. It’s her passion,” Morgan Simms, a cashier at the Marketplace, said. “She is a kind, caring and considerate person. It’s just her demeanor.”
In all of her years working at the College, Lewis says she would not want any other job.
“I wouldn’t trade it for nothing in the world,” Lewis said. “I told them I believe if my boss would say what would you do if we cut your pay, I would tell them, ‘Cut my pay, and let me stay just for a little longer.’”