John V. Lewis Jr., the former longtime proprietor of a landmark general store in Cambridge that sold everything from steaks to screwdrivers, died May 15 at Dorchester General Hospital of complications from heart disease.
The Cambridge resident was 80.
Mr. Lewis, the son of grocers, was born in Cambridge and raised in the city's Neck District neighborhood.
In 1946, his father established the Lewis Drive Inn, and a year later, the Lewis Store on Route 343.
Mr. Lewis was a graduate of Cambridge High School and served in the Army as a military policeman from 1950 to 1953.
He joined his father in operating the general store, and after his father's death in 1958, the family divested itself of the restaurant and Mr. Lewis focused his energies exclusively on the store.
The white-painted cinder block building with green shutters and an ample front porch has been a fixture in the Neck District for 57 years.
Each day, Mr. Lewis threw back the shutters at 4:30 a.m. to open the store and slammed them shut at 10 p.m.
After 1984, he reduced his hours and closed at 6 p.m.
Residents, watermen, farmers, laborers and tourists passing through paused at the store to purchase goods from the wide inventory that Mr. Lewis maintained.
It could be a box of Wheaties, a can of Bon Ami cleanser, a handful of horseshoe nails or some other arcane piece of hardware. If a customer asked, he'd sell them peelers, fresh produce, a hunting or fishing license, a gallon of vanilla ice cream, bagged ice or a cold Coke.
"He even sold his homemade pork-and-sage sausage," said a daughter, Tammy Kaye Lewis Bramble of Cambridge.
John M. Lewis, a nephew who lives in Cambridge and is arts editor of Baltimore Magazine, described his uncle as the "eyes and ears of the Neck District and the heart and soul of the Neck District."
He said that his uncle had "an uncanny ability to connect people with the things they needed."
When a visiting hunter's day in the field was in peril of ending because he had forgotten to bring his medications, Mr. Lewis swung into action.
"Uncle John insisted he stay. He had him write down what he needed, the proper doses, and sent him on his way. When the fellow returned to the store, his medicine was waiting for him," his nephew recalled.
"He was generous and always extended credit. He was very trusting and he'd say, 'Bring it back to me when you can,' " Mrs. Bramble said.
In the far left back of the store, grouped around an oil-fired stove, were several wooden benches - known as the Liars' Bench - where local residents gathered to hear the news, swap tales and drink endless free cups of coffee while eating Tastykakes and sticky buns.
It became known as Lewis University, with Mr. Lewis as "dean," family members said.
"Over the years, Lewis University students have included a former president, big-shot politicians and the owner of a major league sports team. The 'instructors' were the watermen, bricklayers and farmers who convened there every day," his nephew said.
"After a session at Lewis University, Jimmy Carter said, 'I learned a lot about environmental issues and about politics that I never would have known; also basic philosophy and religion,' " Mr. Lewis said.
His uncle "was of service to others. This was a man who was once a pallbearer three times in one day," Mr. Lewis recalled.
Mr. Lewis sold the store - now known as Lewis General Store - and retired in 2004.
Mr. Lewis, who was a Mason, had been a member of the Neck District Volunteer Fire Department and had served on the planning and zoning board. He was a member of American Legion Post 91 and the Cambridge Yacht Club.
He was a longtime communicant of St. John's Chapel Episcopal Church.
Services were Wednesday.
Also surviving are his wife of 55 years, the former Shirley Faye Hurley; two other daughters, Julie Faye Lewis-Townsend of Chestertown and Angela J. Lewis of San Francisco; a brother, James Lewis of Cambridge; two sisters, Thelma Rock of Cambridge and Betty J. Brennan of Towson; and two grandsons.