Jean Lewis: An Extraordinary Life
55 Years of Service at Rehabilitation Through Photography (now Josephine Herrick Project)
By Jackie Augustine – October 2, 2014
My memories of Jean Lewis are fond. She was the tenacious phone call several times a year to tell me about the progress Rehabilitation Through Photography (now Josephine Herrick Project) was making in helping a myriad of underserved populations. As the Publisher of Petersen’s PHOTOgraphic magazine, I was her target for an annual donation to the organization, a definite buyer of the annual raffle tickets and always interested in writing a story in our magazine about the power of photography to make a difference. But it wasn’t until I came across the article in the archives that I discovered who Jean Lewis really was. It tells an amazing story of a woman who was ahead of her time. She believed in service. She believed in giving back. She believed in helping the underprivileged. And she had an interesting career as an actress on radio, in theater and as a children’s book author. Read this wonderful story about her from our archives that was published in Photo Marketing in 2004.
Jean Lewis began work at VSP in 1954 and remained for 55 years and served as the Executive Director for over 20 years.
Published in Photo Marketing – November 2004
Lots of people daydream about having exciting professions, like becoming an actor, writing and publishing books, or deciding their lives to serving others. In her long and remarkable career, Jean Lewis has done all these things.
Born in Shanghi, China to a father who worked for Texaco and a mother who came from a family of missionaries, Lewis was the thrid generation of her family to be born in China or Japan.
“I always thought life was going to be anticlimax after being born in Shanghai, but that didn’t happe,? Lewis said. Not by a long shot.
In the early 1940’s, Lewis was an actress on a number of radio soap operas, such as, “John’s Other Wife.” On one show, she performed opposite Tony Randall.
“In those days, it was 15-minute soap opera and you had exactly an hour beforehand for rehearsal.” Lewis said. “The time went very quickly. Some directors would actually cut from the bottom while you were reading from the script on the air. You would get the signal to cut a certain number of lines from the bottom of the page and scary things like that.”
From radio, Lewis went into theater,
“Back in 1944 and 1945, during the war, I was part of the nine-month national tour of a play called “Harriet” about Harriet Beecher Stowe, starring Helen Hayes. She was absolutely one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. In those days, stars did road tours. You hit the best of the best cities when you were touring with Helen Hayes, of course. I played her daughter in the play. It was the first professional theater job I had and everybody was agog that I had come to this from radio amateur theater.”
After the tour, Lewis continued her theater and radio work. She eventually took a position as program director of the American Theater Wing. “I was with them for about five years, booking entertainment for military and VA hospitals. That was a wonderful experience too,” Lewis said.
Lewis was also the author of about 100 children’s books.
“I got my start through Little Golden BooksI began by writing adventure books for “The Flinstones” and “Bugs Bunny.” I seemed to have a knack for it, so the editors started giving me assignments,” she said. “It was interesting, because you had to think in terms of pictures, illustrations. The pictures had to carry the story, which is also true of photography. It was very good training for me.”
Lewis also wrote versions of “The Jungle Book” and “The Swiss Family Robinson,” among many other books, for Golden.
In addition, Lewis called on her experience growing up in Asia when she wrote books like “Kathi and Hash San- The case of Measels” and “Jane and the Mandarin’s Secret.” The foreward of the latter book was was written by famed author Pearl Buck, who grew up with Lewis’ mother.
Lewis has served the sick, injured, elderly, and disadvantages as executive Director of Rehabilitation Through Photography since 1953.