Lewises’ legacy of giving comes full circle

Mississippi State University has always held a special place in the heart of Harvey Lewis. From serving the university in various leadership positions to contributing to numerous areas across campus and establishing new scholarship funds through private support, the act of paying it forward has ultimately come full circle for the faithful alumnus, whose name now stands as a permanent feature in the College of Business.

Raised on a farm in Byram, Lewis had early involvement with Mississippi State through active participation in the Extension Service’s 4-H Club Youth Development Program. Through the program, he gained valuable experience under the guidance of several county agents including Charles Estess, a 1939 MSU graduate he credits with influencing his decision to attend the university.

In 1961, Lewis graduated from the College of Business with a degree in banking and finance. That same year, he married his high school sweetheart, Di Ann Bartee, who joined the Bulldog family, earning her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the College of Education in 1969, 1972 and 1974, respectively.

“When the opportunity presented itself for me to return to Mississippi State, I also had a few job offers at other universities. However, when it came down to it, there wasn’t much of a decision because I knew where I wanted to go. There have been many changes to campus since I first came here, but it always feels like home.” ~ Harvey Lewis

Lewis went on to earn both an MBA and doctoral degree from the University of Arkansas before beginning a progressive and successful career in education. Among his various positions, he served as executive vice chancellor at the University of Mississippi and associate dean of business at the University of Central Florida. He also assumed several titles at MSU including vice president for administration and development and interim university president, eventually retiring in 1997 as dean of the College of Business, which grew significantly under his direction.

“When the opportunity presented itself for me to return to Mississippi State, I also had a few job offers at other universities,” Lewis said. “However, when it came down to it, there wasn’t much of a decision because I knew where I wanted to go. There have been many changes to campus since I first came here, but it always feels like home.”

The Lewises, who now reside in St. Petersburg, Florida, have upheld more than three decades of consecutive giving to their alma mater. Included in their support are several annual scholarships and the Dr. Harvey S. and Dr. Di Ann B. Lewis Endowed Scholarship.

“Higher education is very expensive and many families do not have the means to provide for such an experience,” Lewis said. “I always remember that if it had not been for scholarships, neither Di Ann nor I could have pursued advanced degrees.”

Lewis also recognizes the encouragement that scholarships and private gifts provide for leadership and academic excellence.

“Di Ann and I believe this is the way to pay it forward,” Lewis said. “Because we have spent our entire professional lives on university campuses, we have seen firsthand the benefits of giving back to Mississippi’s institutions.”

The couple’s exemplary commitment to outstanding support has impacted the lives of many fellow Bulldogs, including Richard Armstrong and Jim Walden. The two College of Business graduates, both former students of Lewis who have maintained a friendship with him over the years, agree that he not only taught his students, but also invested in them. Eager to honor their esteemed mentor, they spearheaded the idea for a naming opportunity and joined forces to promote the fundraising efforts.

The Dr. Harvey Lewis Mezzanine, which comprises a space on the second floor of the Seal Family Business Complex atrium in McCool Hall, provides functional and versatile space where students can study, relax between classes or gather for small group meetings. The space was made possible through the support of more than 30 contributors, including Harvey’s wife Di Ann, who provided a major gift for the endowment.

“I was honored by this recognition supported by family and friends,” Lewis said. “My work with Mississippi State over the last 30 years has been a labor of love. It has been a privilege to work in a variety of positions with a diverse group of MSU students, faculty and university administrators.”

The Lewises’ spirit of philanthropy has provided greater opportunities through MSU and influenced the lives of many. Now, through their most recent investment and the accompanying contributions of others who have been affected by the couple’s benevolence, their legacy has been cemented on the MSU campus. The physical structure will serve as a symbol of the valuable commitment, which has strengthened the foundations of success for current and future Bulldogs.

By Addie Mayfield