"His work improved the quality of life for millions of people who’ve probably never heard of him, as well as helped save thousands of fresh and salt-water species," said Lynda Lewis of her brother, Roy R. "Robin" Lewis.
Roy R. "Robin" Lewis III, a certified environmental professional and senior ecologist whose work was well known locally and internationally, died Sept. 24 at his home in Salt Springs. He was 74.
Lewis was a member of the National Association of Environmental Professionals, Society of Wetland Scientists and Ecological Society of America, and president of Lewis Environmental Services, Inc. Coastal Resources Group, Inc., among many other affiliations.
According to his sister, Lynda Lewis, he was born May 19, 1944, in Daytona Beach. He spent his early life in Jacksonville, where he graduated from Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in 1962. He earned a bachelor of science in biology from the University of Florida in 1966, master's degree from the University of South Florida in 1968 and pursued postgraduate work there at the Marine Science Institute until 1973. He was a professor of biology at Hillsborough Community College and chairman of the department from 1974 to 1977.
"He dreamed of eventually retiring on Lake Delancy. His dream came true. He loved living in the Ocala National Forest in Marion County. He had spent many years as a young man exploring the Ocala National Forest and surrounding springs with his family," Lynda Lewis wrote in an email message.
"His work has touched many special places in Florida and around the world, improved the quality of life for millions of people who've probably never heard of him, as well as helped save thousands of fresh and salt-water species," she noted.
According to Lynda Lewis, even while running several corporations her brother taught wetland restoration courses for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ohio State University, University of Wisconsin and Louisiana State University. He taught an annual course in mangrove forest ecology, management and restoration. He was instrumental in creating the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.
She said his work included the ecology, management, restoration and creation of fresh and saltwater marshes, mangrove forests, forested freshwater forests, and sea grass meadows. He studied the effects of oil spills on coastal ecosystems, plant and animal colonization of dredged material islands, marine and estuarine fish use of restored tidal wetlands, and experimental re-vegetation of wetlands using both marine and freshwater species.
He worked in Florida, California, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Nigeria, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, Brazil, Hong Kong, Cuba and Jamaica, and more recently, in Barbados and on other Caribbean projects.
"Many of his restoration projects received awards, including several national awards from the Audubon Society, the Ecological Society of America and the State of California Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award. He recently received the 2018 National Wetlands Award given by the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C.," Lynda Lewis wrote.
She said he worked with St. Johns Riverkeepers, Putnam County Environmental Council, Florida Defenders of the Environment, Friends of Rookery Bay Reserve, Society of Wetland Scientists, Association of State and Wetland Managers, 1000 Friends of Florida, Mount Dora Friends of the Environment, Inc., and with educational organizations including the Mockernut Hill Botanical Gardens in Shiloh in northwest Marion County.
"Robin was a dear friend and a member of our board and School of Groundcover Conservation faculty here at Mockernut Hill Botanical Garden," wrote Linda Duever, also a professional ecologist, on the garden's Facebook page.
"He was a key player at our first board meeting and very enthusiastic about helping us develop the Florida Ecological Heritage Archive we are establishing in our library building. His ecological records will be housed here, where they will be permanently secure and available to researchers," she noted.
"Robin was the most effective environmental advocate I have ever known, always prepared to take on the hard work of environmental protection and restoration. I met Robin around 1999 when we stepped up to defend the grandfather oaks of South Tampa against developers. He retained me shortly thereafter when his relentless efforts to protect and restore sea grasses in Tampa Bay got him in trouble with the Manatee County Port Authority. When the authority proposed to expand and dredge through healthy and important sea grass beds, Robin objected. He had worked hard to establish the National Estuary and he was paternalistic toward these essential habitats," Thomas wrote in an email statement.
"In a bow to his knowledge and tenacity, the authority hired Robin and put him in charge of their proposed up-front sea grass restoration mitigation project - no use of new facilities until impacts successfully mitigated. But Robin was an honest scientist and advocate and he would not lie to FDEP when the authority made several bad decisions that destroyed acres of sea grass and undermined the mitigation project. So they fired him/he quit. He and I opposed the authority's attempts to renege on promises to fully mitigate the dredging impacts up front. At great expense and under huge stress, Robin beat the authority," Thomas wrote.
"When the U.S. Forest Service neglected to provide for scrub jays, Robin created Save Our Big Scrub. This not-for-profit fights to preserve and create the unique habitat needed by the scrub jay population in the Ocala National Forest," Thomas stated.
"Robin knew disappointment too. I am sure a dying regret was that his beloved Ocklawaha River still has not been restored. Robin worked tirelessly to persuade everyone that the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam needed to be removed. While progress has been made, politics still holds the incredible Ocklawaha hostage to this day," Thomas wrote.
"There was so so much more. These are just anecdotes of a heroic life full of outstanding science, advocacy and environmental action. Robin was a force," Thomas added.
Lynda Lewis said during a telephone conversation that someone had referred to her brother as a "real hero" for the environment.
"That's him. That's the way people thought of him," she said.
Lewis also is survived by his fiancee, Cynthia Sapp of Salt Springs, and longtime business partner and friend, Laura Flynn.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be given in memory of Lewis to any of the organizations with which he was affiliated or any environmentally friendly organization. A memorial ceremony is being planned for late fall.