henry-lewis_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

With praise, proclamations and pageantry, Henry Lewis III officially became the 12th president of Florida Memorial University during ceremonies held Feb. 9 at the James L. Knight Center in downtown Miami.

Lewis, 62, joined FMU a year ago after a search conducted by the school’s board of trustees following the abrupt departure of Karl S. Wright, who left the college in 2009 without public explanation after serving as president for two years.  The board appointed Sandra T. Thompson interim president until Lewis was selected.

The school, located in Miami Gardens in Northwest Miami-Dade County, planned a week of inauguration activities for Lewis, including an academic symposium and prayer breakfast at the campus and a formal dinner and golf tournament at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa.

After taking the oath of office, Lewis emphasized his “Vision 2020” plan to take the university “from good to great” by increasing student enrollment, retention and matriculation.

With separate $1 million grants pledged by Blue Cross & Blue Shield, the United Negro College Fund and Ocean Bank, the school has embarked upon initiatives that are transforming Florida Memorial, Lewis said, including a new gym and wellness center being planned for the campus, and recent board approval to purchase FMU’s first aircraft, which will be used in training students in the school’s aviation program, a student foreign exchange program.

Miami Gardens Councilman Oliver Gilbert III applauded Lewis for his community outreach. Through an internship the city has established with the university, FMU students are working in City Hall, Gilbert said.

“Dr. Lewis does not see the university as an island unto itself,” Gilbert said. “He’s a visionary who plans to take FMU to the next level and we in Miami Gardens are going to go there with him together.”

Among goals Lewis has accomplished: The nearly 2,000 FMU student body has individual, renewable laptops provided by Sprint, four new residential halls have been completed and a new student health center is housed in a new dorm.

During the three-hour installation ceremony, a “Who’s Who” in government, education, business and clergy lauded Lewis for his accomplishments and his additional plans to advance South Florida’s only historically black university.

“He brings outstanding credentials,” said Albert E. Smith, FMU’s 10th president. “He also comes armed with a warm smile and an engaging personality. He is truly a man on a mission,” said Smith, 79, who received a standing ovation from the FMU alumni-filled audience. Smith was college president from 1993-2006.

Lewis has several years of academic, municipal leadership and fundraising experience — strengths the board wanted in its president, said Jolinda Herring, a FMU trustee who chaired the presidential search committee.

Lewis served For 15 years as dean of the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, his alma mater, and is a former dean of the Texas Southern University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. In 1986, Lewis was the first African American elected to the Leon County Board of County Commissioners in Tallahassee.

FAMU President Emeritus Frederick S. Humphries was among the well-wishers who spoke at the inauguration. Lewis was pharmacy dean under Humphries’ tenure and followed him as interim president of FAMU for a short stint in 2002.

“You have the right leader to get you to the top,” said Humphries, FAMU president from 1985-2001. “He knows how to unify people. He knows how to get people to be disciplined and dedicated. That’s what it takes to go to the top.”

Photo: Henry Lewis III