Tag Archives: Horace Lewis

Horace Lewis Needs Our Help

For 32 years, Horace Lewis did everything for everyone in Westport.

Now it’s time for Westport to do something for him.

When he retired in July of 2020, he was honored as “06880’s” Unsung Hero of the Week. I wrote about his devotion to Staples High School. Horace was head custodian there — following the same role at Coleytown Middle School — and though he was a stay-out-of-the-limelight guy, I wanted to shine a light on the care and love he lavished on the building.

Classrooms, hallways, auditorium, a gym and fieldhouse and athletic fields, a cafeteria and 2 teaching kitchens, a library, TV studio, storage areas, boilers and HVAC systems — Horace knew them all. He made them sparkle, shine and work.

Horace Lewis, in a typical pose.

He hired and supervised a superb staff. He held them to high standards. But whenever something went wrong, he was the one who got the call. Broken pipes, a bad odor, a security alarm: Horace was there.

His was a stressful job. But never stopped smiling, working, or serving the building and everyone in it.

Horace Lewis (right) and shift supervisor Tom Cataudo greet the staff and students during the 2015 graduation processional.

Even after his official retirement, stayed on. Staples was coping with COVID. Every hand was needed, so Horace lent his.

Five months ago, he got the chance to retire fully. He helped his daughter with her business. He enjoyed his kids and grandchildren. It was what retirement should be.

But on the day of his 35th anniversary a major stroke derailed his plans, and his life with his wife Bonnie.

Horace went into cardiac arrest twice. He is now in recovery, working to regain his motor skills, speech, and walking capabilities.

When Horace returns home, he will need a wheelchair ramp and other necessities. Meanwhile, bills not covered by insurance pile up. It’s a very tough situation for the entire family.

Horace faced many tough situations, at Staples and Coleytown. With intelligence, creativity, patience — and always a smile — he solved them all.

Family and friends have set up a GoFundMe page. Click here, to pay forward a little bit of the large debt we all owe Horace Lewis.

Unsung Hero #154

One of the major consequences of COVID-19 is the enormous task of making our schools safe for reopening. For months the custodial and maintenance staffs at our 8 public schools have worked assiduously, doing just that.

One of the less noticed effects of the virus is that with schools closed, we don’t get a chance to see all the hard work that’s being done. Or to thank one of the key members of the staff when he leaves.

Next week, Staples High School’s head custodian Horace Lewis retires.

He would not want any fanfare. Horace is a stay-out-of-the-limelight guy. But he’s not getting away without a public acknowledgment of all he has done, and how much he has meant to the building he’s served (and loved) for so many years.

It’s a huge place. There are so many parts to it: classrooms, hallways, auditorium, a gym and fieldhouse and athletic fields, a cafeteria and 2 teaching kitchens, a library, TV studio, storage areas, boilers and HVAC systems, and who knows what else.

Well, Horace knows.

Horace Lewis, in a typical pose.

He’s spent well over a decade taking care of it all. He knows every inch of the school — probably better than anyone else, I’m sure.

He makes sure 3 shifts of staff keep all those many inches running (and gleaming). They work during the school day, during all those afternoon and evening events, and through the night when no one else is around.

When something goes wrong — and it always does — he’s the one who gets the call. Broken pipes, a bad odor, a security alarm: Horace is there.

He’s the public face of his department. If a favorite chair disappears from an office, a meeting suddenly needs a microphone, a bird flies through the hallway: Horace gets the call.

It’s a stressful job. A million things can happen in a school, and in his time as head of its staff, Horace has seen them all.

But he never stops smiling. He never stops working. He never stops serving his school, and everyone in it.

Horace Lewis (right) and shift supervisor Tom Cataudo greet the staff and students during the 2015 graduation processional.

In 2011, Cleaning and Maintenance Management ran a story called “The Custodian’s Secret Life.” In it, they quoted Horace: “The best part about the job is taking care of students and the school, making sure you guys are safe during the day.”

You’ve done that and much more, Horace. Thank you for all of it. Enjoy retirement.

And even if you’re a bit embarrassed by this: You’re our Unsung Hero of the Week.

Unsung Hero #27

Every school in Westport is filled with Unsung Heroes: its custodians. Dozens of men and women work day and night. They clean floors, empty trash, move equipment and do countless other tasks so that our kids can learn — and our teachers can teach — in the cleanest, nicest and best environments possible.

I could single out many Westport custodians as this week’s Unsung Hero. I’m focusing on Jose Alvarez — but he stands for all of them.

Jose begins work at Staples High School at 5 p.m. His domain is the first floor — including the main office wing. It’s the most visible part of the school, and the pride he takes in making it shine is palpable.

He stayed late one night, because there were scuff marks he was still working to remove. That’s a regular occurrence: He won’t leave until his area is perfect.

He washes coffee mugs on administrators’ desks. They don’t want him to, but he insists.

Jose Alvarez

Jose is Colombian. He learned English by listening to lessons on headphones, as he worked.

One of his proudest moments was the day he became an American citizen. He’d studied hard for the test. Principal John Dodig arranged for a cake, and a small ceremony. Jose beamed with pride.

“He’s grateful for everything,” says current principal James D’Amico. “And we’re grateful for him. People come in, and can’t believe how clean and shiny the building looks.”

Staples head custodian Horace Lewis — an Unsung Hero himself — says Jose “never takes a day off. He’s always here, and always does his job so well.”

When he does have a vacation, Jose travels. He’s been to Israel and Italy. Of course, he returns to Colombia whenever he can.

But then it’s back to Westport. There is a school to take care of, and Jose is proud to do it.

(Hat tip: Karen Romano)

Custodians’ Kudos

Thousands of Westport students return to school this week. They’ll be greeted by hundreds of administrators, teachers and paraprofessionals who work hard to help our youngsters grow into wise, empathetic and confident adults.

Those students and staff work every day in buildings that are maintained with skill and care by men and women we always see, but seldom acknowledge. Often, we look right past — or through — our custodians.

David Johnson did not. A retired administrator from upstate Connecticut, he has spent the past 7 summers traveling to Westport to run a certification coach for area middle and high school coaches.

The other day, he wrote to Staples principal James D’Amico:

I have come to enjoy my journey to Westport. I am also enriched by being able to share important knowledge and information with those working with our student-athletes. What I have come to look forward to the most, however, is my interaction with your custodial staff directed by Horace Lewis.

Staples' popular head custodian Horace Lewis leads a great staff.

Staples’ popular head custodian Horace Lewis leads a great staff.

I travel to numerous high school facilities to teach these classes throughout the year. Nowhere is there a custodial staff as professional and welcoming as the one at Staples. I am always greeted with a smile, which makes me feel like I am visiting family.

Horace is there to meet my needs, making sure I have whatever is necessary. Then he asks what more he can do. He and/or one of his staff check and make sure we are ready to go. He checks with us during the class, and also at the end.

It is not easy to go into someone else’s facility and use unfamiliar equipment. But I never have a concern at Staples. I always know I have the support of Horace, Tom Cataudo and their staff.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet the staff and students during the 2015 graduation processional.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet staff and students during the 2015 graduation processional.

We have no problem complaining when something is not right or does not go well. Therefore I feel we have an obligation to recognize work that goes “above and beyond” the  call of duty. After 35 years in public education, I know that these individuals (especially a custodial staff like yours) are the lifeblood of the school community. You are most fortunate.

Thank you again for not only sharing your facility with us, but also for sharing such professional staff as well. Best wishes for a great school opening, and an even better school year.


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The Custodian’s Secret Life

I’m not a regular reader of Cleaning and Maintenance Management — either the print or online edition.

Somehow, though, its editors found — and linked to — an article from Inklings, Staples’ award-winning newspaper.

An alert “06880” reader sent it along to me.

Staples head custodian Horace Lewis. (Photo courtesy Inklings/Nick Siegel)

The story — “The Custodian’s Secret Life” — details the many behind-the-scenes jobs performed by Staples’ maintenance staff.

Sure, they clean.  But they also handle small repairs, act as security guards, even organize recycling.

Horace Lewis — the head custodian — is quoted:  “The best part about the job is taking care of you students and the school, making sure you guys are safe during the day.”

I’m not sure how or why a story in a high school paper caught the eye of an industry’s national newsletter.  Maybe it’s because high school students tend to overlook the very important role custodians play.

Whatever the reason, it once again proves “06880”‘s tagline — “Where Westport meets the world” — true.  If there’s a story here, chances are there’s a national hook.