Longtime Pride parade volunteer and former parade grand marshal remembered as a kind and selfless man


Paul Lewis

James Russell  |  Staff Writer

Former Caven Enterprises Inc. Vice President and 2010 Pride grand marshal Paul Lewis died Friday, Nov. 28, after suffering two heart attacks. He was 69.

Friends this week remembered Lewis as a selfless man who loved Dallas’ LGBT community.

“I can’t think of anyone who didn’t love him,” said Alan Pierce, co-owner of the Round-Up Saloon.

Lewis’ positive influence on those around him was evident on social media as, upon learning about his death, members of the LGBT community and its allies shared photos, memories and grief.

“Our parade directors, and executive directors who carry the parade in current years have made sure that his view of the parade was always the best; front and center,” read a post on the Dallas Tavern Guild Facebook page. “We are truly saddened by his passing, and he will be dearly missed by all. Rest in Peace, Mr. Lewis.”

Christine Bengston worked under Lewis at Village Station, the Caven nightclub which has since morphed into Station 4. She called him a “strong but fair” man.

“He’d walk up to someone at the bar, look at their face and knock them on the head three or four times,” Bengston said. “You knew that meant it was time to go. And he always made sure they got home safely.”

Michael Doughman, executive director of Dallas Tavern Guild, said Lewis “carried a gruff, almost hostile demeanor at times when out in public and at work. But those of us who knew the man knew of his unending generosity and thoughtfulness.

“From cooking a 4 a.m. breakfast for all the Caven crew, to opening his home time and time again to a person struggling with AIDS/HIV and caring for them in their last days, Paul was a father to many a young man and woman in our community,” Doughman added.

Among the young people Lewis helped was Summer Semmens of Fort Worth. She knew him from when they both lived in Houston, where he ran bars. Her mother, who died last year, worked for Lewis, and Semmens was one of his “daughters.”

Semmens said that even though Caven Enterprises recruited Lewis and moved him to Dallas, he didn’t abandon the Semmens family.

She recalled a time that he sent teddy bears to her entire preschool class; he wanted her class to think she bought them.

“He wanted me to be the coolest kid in pre-kindergarten,” she said.

Oscar Noeth, Semmens son, said Lewis was “like a father to my mom and is my grandfather. He is the most special man, so special.

Only if he was still on the earth, I’d be happy. I wish I could see him one last time.”

Lewis kept his private life very private. But according to information provided by Semmens and others, he was born on Jan. 15, 1945, and was raised in an orphanage in Iowa. He eventually moved into a foster home, but his foster parents died when he was a teenager, leaving him to take care of himself.

Lewis joined the Army but didn’t last long.

“He liked to say he ditched the Army when they told him to jump out of a plane,” Semmens recalled. “He said, ‘This fairy don’t fly.’”

After moving to Dallas, Lewis became friends with Alan Ross, first executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild and the man for whom

Dallas’ annual Pride parade is named. That was the beginning of Lewis’ nearly 30-year relationship with the Tavern Guild, including his stint as coordinator of the guild’s annual Holiday Gift Project.

The Holiday Gift Project, started by Ross, was an effort to provide gift bags for people with HIV/AIDS, and it was started at a time when most of those people were gay men whose only “family” were their friends in the LGBT community.

Friends said 2014 was the first year that Lewis wasn’t involved with the project. But even though he is gone, they said, his legacy with that project and in the community will live on.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 20 at the Rose Room in S4. Doors will open at 1 p.m.                                     

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 5, 2014.