The next time you see James Lewis at the Meeting Street Piggly Wiggly, he'll just be doing his grocery shopping.
The Charleston city councilman retired a week ago after a 41-year career with the grocery store, the past 25 years as manager of the dairy department. Friday the store hosted a retirement party for Lewis. Having hung up his uniform, he greeted friends, fellow employees and city staffers in a sport coat, hat and tie.
He said he could have waited a few years until 65 to retire, but said all those years working in the refrigerated section was starting to give him a touch of arthritis. He wanted to stop while he was still feeling good.
Employees came back to sign his hand truck, a former Coburg dairy hand truck that was modified with a large steel plate on the bottom that he used to haul milk to the dairy case.
“That's going to be my present — I'm taking that home,” he said as another store employee added his signature.
“I'm going to stay busy. I'm used to doing something,” Lewis said.
“Something” included waking up at 4 a.m. to be the first to arrive at the grocery at 5 to get ready for the start of business at 7 a.m.
“It's hard to find people like Mr. Lewis — dependable, honest, hardworking,” said store manager Jared Lott. “He looked out for the best interests of the Pig and the customer.”
Lewis worked at the store when the surrounding area was what he called “one of the worst areas to work in.” Luckily things have improved. He takes pride in being a part of that positive change, doing more than paying lip service to the Charleston Police Department's community initiatives.
“He takes these things seriously,” Police Chief Greg Mullen said. “Many nights we're out there at 3 or 4 in the morning and he's out there with us,” when there's a crime in the neighborhood.
God, community, family
“I think the important thing about life is enjoying what you do,” Lewis said.
He has served on Charleston City Council since 1995, and plans to devote more time to serving his District 3 constituents and members of his church, New Israel Reformed Episcopal Church. He also will have more time for his three children and 10 grandchildren.
Though maybe not as much time as he thought. Lewis joked that one week into retirement, he already has a schedule, with Wednesdays set aside for visiting ill church members.
Though it seems hard to believe, he says there are people in his neighborhood he still hasn't met, so that's another priority.
In fact, retirement really only gives him one cause for concern — the fact that people won't know where to find him now.
“A lot of people are used to seeing my face,” he said.
But if necessary, he'll find them.
Reach Melanie Balog at email@example.com or 937-5565.