John Lewis was laid to rest Friday in a peaceful cemetery off Grove Street, just inches from the mother he loved dearly.

Lewis, 69, was known to us Watervillians as the Cross Man, because we’d see him every day about town, waving his cross and blessing everyone and everything in his path.

He once told me he spreads love because there’s so much hate in this country.

“People should love one another,” he said.

That was in 2007 when I walked a few miles with Lewis in the dead of winter, snow pelting us in the face and a cold wind blowing against our backs.

I was chilled to the bone, but Lewis wasn’t. He marched through the streets day and night, summer and winter, through all kinds of weather.

It was his mission to spread love, he said, and he had a lot of it to give.

So when he died in his bed Tuesday, in his meticulously neat apartment on Western Avenue, I figured his work must have been done.

“He passed in his sleep, the way he wanted it,” said his friend, Dan McNulty, at his graveside.

McNulty, Lewis’ friend of 25 years, and Steve Nadeau, funeral director of Veilleux Funeral Home, led the short, simple service.

“He loved life and he looked to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all who would listen,” McNulty said.

Lewis, he said, is now at peace.

“We can rejoice, knowing John is where he wanted to be — to be at the foot of Jesus Christ our lord and savior.”

About 60 people turned out for the service, arriving in cars, on foot and even on bicycles. Sister Kathryn Kelm, affectionately known as Sister Kay Kay, pedaled her bicycle on the dirt roads that meander through St. Francis Cemetery, parked it and met everyone with a smile.

It was hot and humid for the sunny 1 p.m. ceremony. At first, it was quiet, with only McNulty and his wife, Denise; Nadeau; Lewis’ sister, Marie Menendez of Pittsfield; and his brother, Robert Lewis of Connecticut standing by the grave. Mike Hebert, facilities manager for Corpus Christi Parish, also was there.

Then more people came, seemingly out nowhere and wearing street clothes. They gathered by the large white stone bearing the name Arthur Castonguay, who according to Hebert, was Lewis’ grandfather. Castonguay was the first soldier from Waterville killed in combat during World War I and for whom Castonguay Square in downtown Waterville is named.

Lewis’ plain wooden coffin, draped with lovely pink, red and white flowers, lay before the stone.

Hebert told me later that Lewis would be buried just a couple of inches from his mother, a detail I found particularly comforting.

Lewis told me lots of personal stories when I met him in 2007, about how he was slow as a child, had a hard time in school, quit in the tenth grade and had difficulty understanding things.

“My mother would try to help me figure things out,” he said. “My mama was a beautiful soul. She was my life. She loved the Lord enormously. My mother was my star. She was something special. She said, ‘Be good to people. If somebody needs a dollar, give it to them.'”

For 10 years, he took care of his mother who had become very ill, he said. He was overcome with fear that she would die, and when she did, in 2002 at 81, Lewis was devastated.

“I’ve never got over it. I dream about her every night. She was good to me. At the end, I fell apart. I wouldn’t let go of my mama,” he said.

Lewis at the time also was mourning the death of his beloved parrot, Peppi, whose ashes he kept on a stool by his Christmas tree. The bird had been his companion for 45 years until it died in 2005.

Lewis loved deeply and he loved well. He even loved those who threw rocks at him and taunted him as he walked the streets.

At his service Friday, 22-year-old Catherine Sands of Clinton said she watched him wave his cross all her life. She met him when she was a small child and the first thing he said to her was “bless you.”

“You could be the most awful person in the world and he would still bless you. He was an angel, here on earth,” she said.

Becky Emery, 62, of Waterville, remembered working with Lewis some 30 years ago at the former Cascade Woolen Mill in Oakland. When she became very sick once, he walked miles to visit her.

“He walked all the way down in a snowstorm and brought me flowers and chocolates, and I had my brother drive him home,” she said.

After I wrote a story about Lewis a few days before Christmas in 2007, he visited me at the newspaper and brought me a Christmas card.

And for every Christmas thereafter, like clockwork, he’d deliver another.

He was a kind, generous and loving man, one who will not soon be forgotten.

Godspeed, my friend, John. And bless you.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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