John Bradley Lewis (1925 - 2017)
Professor Emeritus, McGill University





Dr. J.B. Lewis
passed away peacefully at Kamloops Seniors Village, BC, with family at his side. John was predeceased by his first wife Diana Patricia Baillie and his brother Keith Dunham Lewis. John is survived by his wife Virginia Douglas Lewis, his children Deborah (Wolfgang) Judith and Michael and grandson Eric. Sharing in the mourning of John’s passing are Virginia’s son, Don (Jessica) and children Heather and Roby; Keith's children Penny and Joanna and wife Barbara. Deborah, Judith and Michael are profoundly grateful for their dad’s patient guidance while they grew up in that unique place and culture, Barbados.

John (known as “JB” to many of his friends, colleagues and students) was both a naturalist and a scholar. After serving in the Canadian Infantry in Holland in late stage of WW II, John followed his passion and earned his PhD in Marine Biology at McGill University. Over his career, his research interests took him over a broad range of locations from the arctic to tropical marine environments.

As an outstanding young biologist, John was commissioned in the early 1950s by McGill University to be the lead scientist to establish a new marine research centre in Barbados. The founding of McGill’s Bellairs Research Institute came at the direct bequest of Commander Carlyon Wilfred Bellairs, a retired British Naval Commander with a strong desire to help the people of Barbados benefit from a better understanding of the Caribbean Sea and the life that inhabits it. Commander Bellairs lived in Seabourne House in Barbados from 1938 to 1955.

Beginning with his early work at Bellairs Research Institute, John developed an international reputation for his research on tropical coral reefs and their ecology. John’s research was closely followed by the Barbados government and the University of the West Indies especially his work on sea urchins (Diadema), flying fish and coral reef ecology. John completed much of his research in the Caribbean waters near Bellairs Research Institute, first as its on-site Director until 1971 and later during frequent visits to Barbados on behalf of McGill University’s Department of Biology. John is the author of many scientific publications, including his book “Darwin’s Coral Atoll” which he dedicated to Ginny, Deborah, Judith and Michael.

John was very much a Montrealer and an esteemed member of the McGill community, where he served in many roles including the Director of McGill’s Redpath Museum. Upon retirement, John became Professor Emeritus. While living in Montreal, John shared close to 40 years of love as husband to Virginia Douglas Lewis, Professor Emerita of McGill’s Department of Psychology.

As a scientist, teacher and mentor, John guided many undergraduate and graduate students in the joys of researching the complexities of marine life and the interactions amongst the abundant and different organisms that inhabit the Caribbean Sea. John was an early SCUBA diver and a patient observer of all forms of sea life. In fact, many say that he spent more time in the water than out of it. While pursuing his own love of sea life, he introduced many students to marine biology. In his personal and professional lives, John touched many people. Everyone who knew John felt the joy of his genuine care, warmth and gentle nature.

Background and Career

John Bradley Lewis was born January 12, 1925 in Ottawa, Ontario. He is a McGill University veteran, having completed three degrees and spending over fifty years working at the university. He obtained a B.Sc. in Zoology (1949), a M.Sc. in Zoology (1951) and a Ph.D. in Zoology with the thesis The Occurrence and Vertical Distribution of the Euphausiacea of the Florida Current (1954). Lewis’ research has focused upon the biology and ecology of the plants and animals living in and around coral reefs, as well as tropical fishes. He has published more than 100 papers.

Lewis’ career at McGill University began upon his doctorate graduation with the position of Assistant Professor (1954-1960). From there he became an Associate Professor (1960-68); and moved up to Professor, a position he held until 1992. In 2000, he was awarded Professor Emeritus status in the Department of Biology. He became Director of the Redpath Museum in 1971, a position which lasted for fourteen years and ending in 1985, when he became Director (1984-88) of the short-lived Institute of Oceanography.

At the same time Lewis obtained his Ph.D., he found a position as one of the Founding Directors of the McGill University’s Bellairs Research Institute. Located in Barbados, it is Canada’s only tropical teaching and research centre. He moved there with his wife and began his research on the life history of sea urchins. The mission of the Institute is to provide a facility for McGill University staff who have developed interests for tropical research. The primary interests of the Institute were focused towards marine sciences, however these interests have broadened over the years to include a wider spectrum from the sciences and humanities. His appointment as Director has inspired and initiated great scientific development within the Institute.

Posted: Dec. 11, 2017