Selma Lewis, 94, great cook, devoted church volunteer

Posted: August 31, 2012

IF YOU were fortunate enough to have been invited to one of the Sunday dinners at the West Philadelphia home of Selma Lewis, you would likely have gotten to sample her famous lemon and allspice sweet-potato pies.

Selma, a daughter of the South, was an exceptional cook in the Southern tradition. She was a devoted churchwoman, an honored volunteer at Lankenau Hospital and a dedicated matriarch of a large family of three generations. She died Sunday at age 94.

Selma was born in Enfield, N.C., to Missy and Henry Carroll. She got her early education there and began working as a domestic at a young age. After marrying her childhood sweetheart, James Lewis Sr., they moved to Philadelphia with the first two of their five children.

One of their first decisions was to join Bryant Baptist Church. They later joined New Welcome Baptist in North Philadelphia.

Church was always a big part of Selma's life. And she dressed accordingly, decked out in her Sunday best - signature hats, designer suits and high-heeled, patent-leather shoes.

At New Welcome, she ran many church committees and was a member of the Senior Choir and the deaconess, mother and usher boards. She was always available for whatever the church needed.

She made the same commitment when she and her husband followed their pastor, Bishop Barry E. Connelly, to the Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church in 1992.

"She went out of her way to help others and was always supportive and protective of her family and friends," her family said.

Selma worked for more than 30 years as a seamstress for the Philadelphia Pants Co.

When her husband was diagnosed with kidney failure, requiring dialysis treatment three times a week, Selma retired from her job and became a volunteer in the Admissions Department of Lankenau Hospital to monitor his care and help others.

When he died in 1993, Selma continued her duties, serving in the Admissions Department for 20 years. Her devotion earned her a wall plaque in the hospital.

Selma enjoyed traveling. She visited the Holy Land, Hawaii, Florida and San Francisco. At age 86, she took her first Caribbean cruise.

She is survived by three daughters, Mildred R. Opher, Alice Wright and Livian Bishop; a special son, Roland Watkins; 18 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by two sons, James Lewis Jr. and Gus Lewis, and three brothers, Edward, Arthur and Henry Carroll.

Services: 7 p.m. Thursday at Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church, 18th and Cambria streets. Friends may call at 5 p.m. Burial will be in Enfield, N.C.

Contact John F. Morrison at or 215-854-5573.

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