The tangibility and physicality of archaeology, the wonder of touching with modern fingers the day-to-day realities of the ancient world, these were the driving forces behind Mac’s approach to the study of Greco-Roman antiquity. He was an accomplished Latinist with a profound appreciation for Classical literature. Still, it was digging in the Italian earth, trying to reconstruct the everyday experiences of the ancient inhabitants of Vergigno, which brought the past alive for him. Mac was not afraid to get his hands dirty, and he was not afraid of the messy detail of archaeology.
Excavation is often a painstaking process of discovery, requiring patience and careful attention to small objects and features; fragmentary pieces of evidence like the stones of an extra-dimensional mosaic, from whose assembly emerges, slowly, a diachronic picture. One can understand why, when an article in a local newspaper in Montelupo once compared Mac to Indiana Jones, he rolled his eyes; there were no snake pits and hastily discovered shiny objects at Vergigno! But Mac was more Indiana Jones to those around him than he realized. We cannot be sure of his facility with a whip, nor did he bear a particular resemblance to Harrison Ford. Still, he did, like Indiana Jones, approach life with an unremitting sense of wonder and adventure, the daring to step into the unknown, and the humility to know that the most beautiful object is not always the best or most significant. He knew how to choose wisely.
I got to know Mac while at Concordia College, from which I graduated in 2018. I’m now at Hamline University in St. Paul for my Masters in Teaching; along the way, I spent several seasons in Italy on Mac’s dig. It makes me so happy that scholarships are being put together in Mac’s honor.
Here is a copy of a cameo he had in an essay I wrote for an education course: “My college advisor, Dr. McKenzie Lewis “Mac,” holds a special place in my heart. If I can become half the teacher that he was, my students will be incredibly lucky. Through my four years of undergraduate studies, I knew that Mac would challenge me with seemingly impossible tasks, offer encouragement and insight at just the right time, and share my excitement and pride once the task at hand was complete. He believed in me. He trusted me enough to let me take a shovel to his ancient Roman archaeological site. I used the knowledge he imparted to then, in turn, teach students in the field. He surpassed the role of teacher and became a close friend, always encouraging me to not give up on my dreams.
I wish that I had the opportunity to tell Mac that he is one of my biggest inspirations for finally committing to teaching. He died unexpectedly at the beginning of March this year. I am still reeling at the fact that I will be going into my first few years of teaching without being able to ask for his advice. However, I know that the best way to honor his memory will be to become the best educator I can be.”
From first getting to know Mac when I sheepishly called him Dr. Lewis to form a friendship, every moment spent with him was enlightening and/or entertaining. He had an infectious personality, which must have been contagious – to the point that his friends Peter and Amanda commented on how I sounded remarkably like Mac when I gave them a tour of Rome. I credit him for my explosive passion for the Ancient World and hope to inspire my future students to chase their dreams, just as Mac did for me.
I’m a former student of Dr. Lewis’ from the University of Waterloo Despite only knowing Dr. Lewis for a year; he quickly became my favorite professor; he was always genuine and clearly had a passion for the material he was teaching. It was inspiring. Dr. Lewis inspired me to be a better writer and a better student of Classics. I’ll always be grateful to have had him teach me some of my favorite subjects.
One of my favorite memories includes a conversation about how much more interesting Seneca’s Medea was compared to Euripides’, and he helped me craft an excellent essay on the subject. It was an easy conversation, and I learned so much. In an earlier office hour, Dr. Lewis was cleaning out his bookcase and gifted me with a book on literary terms after I’d expressed my interest and love for the subject. I still have that book – I took it with me when I moved cities. He had an infectious personality, and eventually, I felt comfortable enough asking him to write a reference letter for me for a medical school application, and he was very sweet about it. I’m incredibly grateful; it’s still a memory I hold close to my heart.
Losing a mentor is hard, and some days I find myself grieving in the strangest ways. But the grief of losing a loved one is incalculable. … It’s just like you said, returning a gem to its original source hurts.
Being a part of McKenzie ‘s archaeological dig in Italy was truly life-changing. I’m absolutely certain it put me on the path to majoring in global studies now, and I don’t think I would have the same perspective and appreciation that I do today without that experience. I loved subtly bragging about the fact that my uncle was an actual, real-life archaeologist and that when I was a teenager, I was able to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience working at a real, real-life archaeological dig. I also really admired his passion for what he learned and taught. I was really looking forward to being able to continue my educational career and talk with McKenzie about all the things that I was learning, but keeping him in my memory has served as a great motivator, and I hope he knows, somehow, what an influence he had on me.
One memorable thing for me was when the local newspaper in Montelupo published an article about McKenzie’s dig on the first page. I remember McKenzie sort of rolling his eyes at the headline read “Indiana Jones,” haha!
I have a necklace that one of the people that worked with McKenzie on the dig made and then gave to all of us who participated. I recall how willing to teach McKenzie and all of his students were, and how everybody on the dig made me feel welcome. The dig was hard work: physical labor under the Tuscan sun during the hottest hours of the day. However, McKenzie made sure that everyone was safe and well hydrated, and he had a knack for keeping us motivated and invested by sharing his passion and his knowledge with us. At the end of every hard-working day, we would gather at the Villa, the owners of which adored McKenzie, and we would have dinner together. Dinner was always filled with a lot of laughter, just the right amount of drama, and truly the most delicious food I have ever had the pleasure of eating.
I met Prof Mc while I was a student. I didn’t speak a single word of English; I was shy, insecure, with no experience at all. When he arrived at Villa del Verigno in Tuscany, I was covered by maps, stupid papers, instruments, and a lot of dust. He smiled at me and shook my hand, he said: “Hi, so you are the expert. I’m very glad to have you here!”. I was really far away from an expert in anything, archaeological less than anything else, but he trusted me since the first day, and he never stopped even if I was the first one who didn’t trust herself. Thanks to him, I finished my Master’s degree. I remember that: while I was presenting my last work in front of all my professors, I felt like a Tiger! I was presenting the job we did together, and that made me so honored and excited at the same time that it was as Mc was there next to me, he was giving me the same confidence he always gave to all of us. This is Prof Mc for me and for all the students who have been so lucky to have him as a professor. A “Big Friendly Giant”. … Now, while sad tears can’t stop falling down, a shy smile stands on my face. You haven’t ever seen me, but I’m pretty sure you know this smile is the same you can see on all of us looking at our crazy, funny Prof. Mc. With all my affection, Lisa
Dr. Lewis demonstrated a real passion for helping his students engage with Classical studies. He encouraged me to find ways to intersect my survey of feminist psychology with classical mythology to generate new knowledge in the field. I deeply valued Dr. Lewis taking the time to sit down with me and help me find new directions for my research. He showed real care for his students and wanted everyone to find their niche within the field.
Dr. Mac Lewis had an unparalleled passion for classical history. He always spoke about it with such joy, and I admired how this joy influenced his teaching. I remember when he was teaching me Latin, and he preferred to focus on smaller sections so students could perfectly understand the small intricacies and nuances of the language. He was a fantastic educator, and he had a positive influence on my time in the classical studies program.
Dr. Lewis was the perfect person to step up and help our department through a difficult situation. His passion for empowering students to study classics was the cornerstone of his classroom. He was always encouraging and intentional about following-up with specific questions and interests’ students had. During his first few days of teaching, we invited him to our annual student Symposium, happening that very weekend. Having barely met us, he gave up his entire Saturday, eager to hear students’ presentations. We were blown away by his enthusiastic investment in our education. He is sorely missed.
When Dr. Mac Lewis stepped in to be our instructor for the rest of the semester, I was grateful that he was so patient and sympathetic about the students’ situation. He was a knowledgeable man and was very helpful when writing assignments, making sure to check in on the students. Even though we only knew him for a short period, he will be greatly missed.
Dr. Lewis was an incredibly knowledgeable person with an immense passion for Classics. If you’ve had the pleasure of taking a class with him, you would soon find yourself fully immersed in the material. I had the pleasure of having him as my supervising professor for a seminar in classics, and he clarified for me the difference between “theatre” and “amphitheater” for the research paper I was writing.
Dr. Lewis was a dedicated and enthusiastic classicist whose passion clearly shone through in his teaching. These qualities often led to interesting and insightful lessons that extended beyond the curriculum, which in turn allowed his students to get the very most out of his classes. His students and colleagues will sorely miss him.
Although I was only able to spend a matter of weeks with Dr. Lewis, he nevertheless had a significant impact on me and my outlook on our field of Classics. It was clear from the moment he began working with us at Guelph that the students, and their education, were at the forefront of his mind. I was enrolled in all the classes he had helped cover and was met with nothing but positivity and a very encouraging personality. His philosophy about our Latin class is one that has stuck with me; that is, less is more. By spending nearly entire classes on minute grammar points, I can certainly say that due to Professor Lewis, I am much more confident in dealing with seemingly minor points! His feedback on papers was extremely encouraging, and it was a relief to get such constructive and positive feedback. I appreciated the way he managed our seminar class; I knew he was doing what he felt was best for us. Most importantly, his feedback gave me the extra confidence I needed to feel comfortable pursuing postgraduate studies. An outside opinion reiterating the positive things I had heard from the Guelph professors gave me that extra, much needed, a bit of reassurance. For that, I am truly grateful. His passing is an extremely unfortunate blow to the Classics community. He will be sorely missed.