Indiana State University Newsroom

Maggie Lewis: ‘Lifting as she climbs'

December 21, 2012

For more than 40 years, Joyce Dabner battled substance abuse but the 58-year-old grandmother has been clean for the past 15 months. She credits Maggie Lewis for helping turn her life around.

"She has encouraged me to get my life together, showing me how to be a mother, showing me how to be a sister, just showing me some things that I didn't get in life," Dabner said of Lewis, executive director of Dove Recovery Center for Women in Indianapolis.

When Democrats looked for a leader of the City-County Council of Indianapolis and Marion County following the 2011 election, they turned to Maggie Lewis, confident of her ability to lead in the face of divided government. When the votes were tallied, Democrats gained a 16-13 edge on the council but Republicans held on to the mayor's office.

Leaders of both parties praise her selection.

"Maggie's strongest suit is her ability to communicate. There are 29 personalities; there are 29 priorities and Maggie is able to bring all of those interests together," said Democrat Steve Talley, a former council president.

"We have had a good relationship ... with her reaching out to me as different issues have arisen. There have been no surprises," said Republican Mike McQuillen, the council's minority leader.

That the Maggie Lewis who helps women break the cycle of substance abuse is the same Maggie Lewis that keeps the legislative body of the nation's 12th largest city running smoothly is no surprise to those who know the Indiana State University graduate ('95, GR '99).

"She has always been a woman of integrity and a woman of intelligence. She was industrious and a leader when I knew her so I knew great things were in story for her," said Dorothy Simpson-Taylor, who served as special assistant to the president for ethnic diversity when Lewis attended Indiana State during the early 1990s.

Lewis said Simpson-Taylor "was an absolutely wonderful person to have in my life while I was on campus. Seeing this other African-American woman in a leadership role, I just reached out to her. She served somewhat as a mentor and often made herself available to talk to me."

While a student at Columbus East High School, Lewis worked as a nurse's aide. When she enrolled at Indiana State in the fall of 1990, she planned on becoming a nurse but a health education class prompted a change of plans.

‘I realized nursing wasn't where I really wanted to go. I felt like I wanted to do more of the education piece," she said.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in community health education, Lewis stayed at Indiana State and completed a Master of Public Administration degree with an eye toward a career in non-profit organizations.

"When I think of Indiana State, I really believe that I grew up on that campus. Like everyone, we learned how to budget, learned how to survive on your own," she said. "Mom and dad aren't there but yet there is still this family feel to the campus so I literally feel like I grew up there."

It was at Indiana State that Lewis first experienced diversity on a large scale and the experience taught her "to accept people for who they really are. I also developed strong friendships and a great appreciation for what family really is. I understand now that you're not defined by DNA. That's not necessarily what makes a family; it's experiences and relationships that are important."

Among Lewis' many relationships at Indiana State was one with her future husband, Leroy Lewis III, whom she proudly refers to as her "college buddy."

After completing her master's in 1999, Lewis worked at Hamilton Center in Terre Haute before moving to Indianapolis for a job with Lutherwood Family and Child Services, followed by a stint working with homeless veterans through the Salvation Army. She worked as a self-employed consultant for a time before deciding to look for what she described as another "real job" after winning a special city-county council election in 2008. That "real job" was her current position with Dove Recovery Center.

"Maggie is the light of the Dove Center. She has done a wonderful job here. Our program is so much better thanks to her," said Sherri Womack, a case manager at the facility, located just east of downtown Indianapolis.

"She's a hands-on executive director. She's not afraid to get her hands dirty and help everyone out. She's also very fair. She listens to both sides of everything before she makes a decision," added Celli Dugger, also a case manager.

It is her communications skills and her way of reaching out to others that make Lewis a true public servant, not just a political leader, according to her city-county council colleagues, who say she is the right choice to lead the council in the face of divided government.

"Maggie is able to bridge all the gaps and is very determined to get all the information that she needs. She is very effective in getting that information to the councilors," said Talley, the former council president who noted council Democrats considered no one else for president. "A number of us had known Maggie for her work in the community and we felt she would be a very fine consensus person."

Then there is that smile that brightens up a room and serves to put just about anyone at ease.

"She is very charming. Her personality and demeanor are true assets as she treads the water trying to put together different initiatives with her fellow councilors," said McQuillen.

Lewis proved her mettle to McQuillen shortly after she become a councilor and long before assuming her current leadership role.

She attends church in McQuillen's district and included him in planning for the opening of a senior center at the church by inviting him to the ribbon-cutting.

"I appreciated the fact that she reached across the aisle and included me," he said.

Simpson-Taylor, Lewis' mentor at ISU though never officially her "teacher," has long championed servant leadership - leading by example and by helping others. Now retired and living in Indianapolis, the mentor has been able to track Lewis' recent achievements and pronounces her a true servant leader.

"There is a saying in the African-American community that we lift as we climb and she is an example of an African-American woman who is lifting as she climbs," Simpson-Taylor said.

Note: This article originally appeareed in the fall 2012 issue of Vitality, the magazine of the Indiana State University College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services.

Photo: - Maggie Lewis chats with a visitor at Dove Recovery House in Indianapolis, where she serves as executive director. (ISU/Tony Campbell)

Photo:!i=1929103684&k=sKSh2d6&lb=1&s=A - Maggie Lewis (center), executive director of Dove Recovery House for Women, chats with clients Antoinette Kimble (left) and Joyce Dabner. (ISU/Tony Campbell)

Photo: - Steve Talley is among Indianapolis City-County Council President and Indiana State University alumna Maggie Lewis' colleagues on the council. (ISU/Tony Campbell)

Photo: - Maggie Lewis in her office at Dove Recovery House in Indianapolis, where she serves as executive director. (ISU/Tony Campbell)

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or