Palm Beach Atlantic University Professor of Psychology and four-time Fulbright scholar Dr. Billy Ray Lewter exposed his students to more than just the mysteries of the human mind. He began introducing them to the wealth of knowledge to be gained by studying internationally when he and his wife, Mary, took 23 students to London to study during the fall semester of 1992.
The next year they went again, taking along 27 students. From then on, a University tradition known as the London Semester was born.
|Former Palm Beach Atlantic University Dr. Paul Corts (left) presents Dr. Billy Lewter the University's Professor of the Year award in the spring of 1993.|
“If I knew I would die tomorrow I would go to London just to see a play at the London Theater,” Dr. Lewter told a reporter for the student newspaper, The Beacon, in 2009.
Dr. Lewter passed away on Saturday, April 19, after a long illness. He was 77.
Visitation will take place at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, in the University’s DeSantis Family Chapel, and a funeral service will be held at 5 p.m. in the chapel with Rev. Bill Keith officiating. The family will receive friends in fellowship during a reception immediately following the service at First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach.
The family has requested that memorial gifts be sent to the Billy and Mary Lewter Scholarship Fund. Checks should be made out to Palm Beach Atlantic University with Billy and Mary Lewter Scholarship Fund in the subject line and mailed to the Development Office, Palm Beach Atlantic University, P.O. Box 24708, West Palm Beach, FL 33416-4708. Click here to make gifts online; please add Billy and Mary Lewter Scholarship in the notes field.
Dr. Lewter was completing his 29th year on the PBA faculty. Today, PBA students continue to participate in the London Semester and several other study-abroad opportunities through the University’s Rinker Center for Experiential Learning.
“He was the role model for a caring, loving and Christ-centered professor who made a difference in the lives of so many over the years,” University Provost Dr. Joseph A. Kloba said. “He loved the Lord, he loved his family, he loved his students and he loved PBA. He will be deeply missed.”
England is only one of many places Dr. Lewter visited in his pursuit of learning. In all, he studied at eight universities in seven countries.
In addition to traveling to the Philippines and Hong Kong in the late 1960s, he later won Fulbright grants to study in India, Korea, Peru, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Louisville, and he went on to earn a master’s degree in higher education from Eastern Kentucky University and a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Kentucky.
Before coming to PBA, he was an assistant professor and student personnel director at Southeastern Christian College in Winchester, Ky. He also was a psychology professor at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn.
While working in Dayton, he received a call from the late Dr. Henry Brandt, a psychology professor at PBA, inviting him to come to be a guest speaker in chapel, according to The Beacon article. Afterward, Dr. Lewter accepted an invitation to join the PBA faculty.
In 1993, former PBA President Dr. Paul Corts presented Dr. Lewter with the University’s Professor of the Year award during the spring commencement ceremony. In nominating him for the award, Dr. Lewter’s peers described him as an articulate Christian, a talented teacher and a friend to students. His relationship with his students as professor, mentor and father figure was described as exemplary.
“Billy was the consummate compassionate, caring faculty member. I have talked to a number of graduates who spoke about the tremendous impact he had on their lives,” said Dr. Corts, who went on to serve as assistant attorney general for administration with the U.S. Department of Justice and president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
Dr. Corts noted that the Lewters often invited students into their homes, and that Dr. Lewter was dedicated to teaching his students about basic life principles, as well as interpersonal relationships and serving others.
Senior Professor of Education Dr. Dona Thornton came to know Dr. Lewter well through both working with him in PBA’s School of Education and Behavioral Studies and through attending church with him and his family.
“He was such a strong Christian,” Dr. Thornton said. “The students were always first and foremost, but he was also very family oriented.”
The Lewters have five children, Jonathan Lewter (Susan) of Louisville, Ky.; Amy Drago (David) of Pensacola; Beth Lewter of West Palm Beach; Rachel Lewter, of Frankfort, Ky.; and David Lewter of West Palm Beach, as well as 14 grandchildren.
Throughout his life, Dr. Lewter remained a positive influence on his students. In 2009, psychology graduate Dave Geenen ’03 established the Billy and Mary Lewter Scholarship at PBA through a gift from the Richard and Sylvia Geenen Foundation. The scholarship is awarded to psychology majors who demonstrate Christian leadership.
“He taught us, his students, to think critically,” Geenen, now program officer with the Doris and Victor Day Foundation, said at the time the scholarship was established. “He would say, ‘This is what we’re learning, but how is that integrated into your Christian faith and how does that get you beyond Sunday?’”