Friends said the county will be poorer for her absence.
Chris Morris, who was knew Lewis for 37 years, said her friend was one of DeKalb’s biggest champions.
“Polly just loved the community,” Morris said.
John Leak, another longtime friend, called her “just a great person.”
“You could always count on Polly to be somewhere where it made a difference,” he said. “I am really saddened.”
Lewis, who had been fighting cancer for years, died at her home in Decatur.
In the early 1980s, when DeKalb County was undergoing massive changes with the influx of middle-class African Americans and the flight of white residents, Lewis was a core member of an ad hoc volunteer group that called itself the The Non Nons.
Morris said they chose that name because they were non-political and just wanted to connect people during a time of great change in the county.
“We wanted to bring the community together and help them get to know each other,” she said.
Lewis, Leak and former state Rep. Frank Redding, who were part of the group, said they organized social events to facilitate interactions between residents.
“It was folks getting together to fellowship,” Leak said. “We had no name, no office, no agenda. We didn’t try to save any souls. It strengthened a lot of relationships for the good of the community.”
Redding said The Non Non Group got a lot of work done because of Lewis.
“Polly was the organizer,” he said.
While Lewis was never political, she was the ultimate insider, with the ear of elected officials who were shepherding change in the county.
Redding said she stayed away from the limelight but was an adviser to many elected county and state officials including Nate Mosby, John Evans and Eugene Walker.
“She was one of the best advisers I had when I was in the General Assembly,” he said.
Lewis suceeded Redding as Community Relations Director when Manuel Maloof was CEO. She left the county to become executive assistant to the Board of Trustees of the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority that ran Grady Memorial Hospital, and stayed there until her retirement.
She served on many local boards including the YMCA and the South DeKalb Business Association, and was very active in Greater Travelers Rest Church, where she was a member for 39 years.
Morris said Lewis was active and engaged in her church.
“Our faith was the foundation of everything we did,” Morris said. “We could talk about anything and we knew it would stay between us. It’s a good thing to have friends on whose shoulders you can cry.”
State Rep. Pam Stephenson, who worked with Lewis on the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority and was a friend, said Lewis was ailing for a long time, but that it took a while for her to be diagnosed with cancer. But her illness did not hamper her community work.
Lewis was recently appointed by DeKalb Commissioner Stan Watson to serve on the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
She was hospitalized two weeks ago, yet Stephenson said she was trying to work even from the hospital.
“That was Polly,” Stephenson said. “She loved DeKalb County. I had to tell her that she needed to focus on herself.”
Stephenson, who spoke with Lewis Friday morning, said she was in high spirits.
“She sounded stronger than she had been in weeks,” Stephenson said.
Lewis was found dead later that day. She is survived by sons Barry and Justin and a host of relatives and friends.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.