Clifton Van Brunt Lewis, 94, died in her sleep on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, in Tallahassee.
She was the widow of George Lewis II, who predeceased her in 1996, and the daughter of William Edwin Van Brunt, a Tallahassee dentist, and his wife Lina Clifton Byrd.
Clifton attended first grade at Caroline Brevard School the first year it opened, and graduated from Leon High School, where she was the 1936 May Queen. She was a Kappa Delta at and graduated from Florida State College for Women in 1940, and was married at Trinity Methodist Church later that summer. Since her marriage, she has been a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church and Holy Comforter Episcopal Church.
Clifton and George had four children, George Edward Lewis II, William Van Brunt Lewis, who predeceased his mother on June 6, 2011, Clifton Byrd Lewis Mashburn, and Benjamin Bridges Lewis. Her other survivors include daughter-in-law Mary Alda Balthrop, her grandchildren Mary Byrd Lewis Sims (Ramsay), Cameron Lewis Barton, George Lewis III (Sarah), Amara Teresa Balthrop-Lewis Hastings (Al), Alda Balthrop-Lewis, Truewill George Mashburn, Chelsea Kathryn Lewis, Olivia Pepper Posner, Serafin Maraya Lewis, and Sarah Jessie Lewis; and her great-grandchildren, Melissa Byrd Sims, Virginia Holland Sims, Isabella Collins Barton, Stella Mae Lewis, Clifton Wren Lewis, Sarah Teresa Hastings, William Tate Hastings, Samuel Alexander Hastings, Mojo Benjamin Milhous Lewis, and Arden Jean Milhous Lewis.
Clifton may be remembered for her advocacy for peace, people, the arts, the environment, and good government. She initiated and helped to organize many of the institutions that many of us take for granted in the world today. Clifton was the only curator of the little gallery, which she started in the lobby of The Lewis State Bank in the 1950’s as a place for local artists to display their works and for the public to absorb the exposure, which led to the organization and establishment of LeMoyne Art Foundation at its original location behind the bank on South Calhoun Street in the Deeb House.
She was one of the founders of the Tallahassee Junior Museum, now the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science, and was the first president of its board of trustees. She pestered the governor and cabinet until they agreed to start televising their proceedings on public television, and did the same to the Tallahassee City Commission and the Leon County Board of County Commissioners. She had previously worked the public access and public television providers to be sure they would carry the meetings when the governmental bodies granted her requests. Some persons think that the adoption of the three-minute time limits that many public bodies have since imposed on persons wishing to speak at public meetings (as she sometimes pointed out, other than the members of such bodies themselves) may be traced, at least in part, to Clifton’s often extensive oral attempts to obtain approval for her usually tradition changing projects.
Both Clifton and her late husband have recently been recognized by the City of Tallahassee as two of the Foot Soldiers in the Footsteps to Freedom, acknowledging their participation in the local struggle for the end to racial inequality. Clifton and George traveled around the state and throughout the country as members of the United World Federalists, and Clifton attended all of the meetings of the Florida Advisory Committee to the United States Civil Rights Commission while George served as its chairman.
One of the enduring interests in Clifton’s life was her involvement in the arts, with a particular concern that all children should have the opportunity to see and touch beautiful things, and hear magical sounds. Legions of children spent fascinating hours with her, and even more adults enjoyed repasts at her overflowing tables, all as they took in and tried to digest her enthusiasm and fervor for life. Her time with friends and relatives wherever they occurred were most often memorable and usually exceptional. Clifton was never more in her element than when such events could occur at St. Teresa or on Dog Island, which were spiritual places to her for her entire life.
In the early 1950’s, she convinced George that they should try to meet the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, to ask if he would design a home for them. They were able to do that, and Mr. Wright agreed. The result was the creation of Spring House, their home from 1954 until their respective deaths. Spring House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Feb. 14, 1979, indeed unusual for a site that was only 25 years old at the time. At the end of Clifton’s life, she was still trying to achieve her ideal of having Spring House become a place where the arts, nature, and humanity can be nurtured for the benefit of the public as a teaching institution. Shortly after George’s death, Clifton and others formed the Spring House Institute, Inc., and charged it with the tasks of restoring and preserving this historic property and converting it into beneficial public use. Clifton hoped, with the help of the public, to restore and complete the only built residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Florida and transform it from her personal home into a lasting public legacy.
A memorial service for Clifton is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Friday, March 14 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 211 North Monroe Street, Tallahassee. Persons wishing to assist with Clifton’s efforts to preserve Spring House may contribute to the Institute on line at www.preservespringhouse.org, or by mail to Spring House Institute, Inc., at P. O. Box 10146, Tallahassee, FL 32302-0146. Donations may also be made to any of the other organizations to which she devoted so much of her efforts.