Joe Lewis – devoted husband, beloved dad, caring grandpa and respected brother – died Tuesday morning surrounded by loving family members. He was 86.
Joe was admired for his notable work ethic. As a self-proclaimed “workaholic,” he ended his 39-year career at Johnson Controls as Executive Vice President of the company. He was proud of his achievements and appreciated that his responsibilities granted him opportunities to extensively travel the world with his late wife, Mary Ellen.
Outside the office, Joe loved to sail. He described the activity as a personal challenge and a great getaway from work pressures. The Lewis family spent summers sailing to Door County and Michigan’s sandy shores. While Joe enjoyed exploring new harbors, he also became accustomed to navigating fog, mastering 45 mph winds and taking on 10-foot seas.
Joe found joy in vacationing at the family’s Acapulco, Mexico villa, which was purchased in the early 1970s. With retirement on the horizon, Joe sold the villa for a condominium in Naples, Florida, which he called home until July 2020.
Joe had a lifetime of love for Mary Ellen, his high school sweetheart and wife of 56 years. The greatest display of his devotion, adoration and commitment to Mary Ellen was shown while caring for her as she battled ALS for 5 years.
Joseph William Lewis was born March 18, 1935, in Adrian, Minnesota, as one of William and Elenor Lewis' eight children. He and his siblings grew up in the small town and helped run the family business, Lewis Hardware.
Joe graduated from St. Adrian Catholic High School in June 1953. After attending the University of Notre Dame his freshman year, he transferred to the University of Minnesota, Twin-Cities to study mechanical engineering through a cooperative work-study program.
Upon graduation, Joe accepted a job at Johnson Controls in 1958 as a sales engineer in Minneapolis. This marked the start of his successful 39-year career.
In August 1964, he was transferred to Johnson Controls’ “home territory” branch in Milwaukee. His career progressed quickly as he advanced to assistant branch manager and then branch manager.
He became General Manager of the Systems Engineering and Construction Division in 1977. When that division ultimately downsized, Joe was transferred back to the commercial controls division.
Starting in 1984, he served as Vice President and General Manager of the Controls and Manufacturing Division. This experience was new for him, as he considered himself a salesperson and contractor, not a design engineer. But as always, Joe took this challenge head on. In 1985, he became responsible for the controls group business and started designing and manufacturing products while also contracting operations throughout the world.
One year later, Joe was promoted to his final position. As Executive Vice President of Johnson Controls, he traveled to Japan three times a year, Asia annually and Europe quarterly. Twice each year, Joe extended his time abroad for vacationing and sightseeing with Mary Ellen.
After retiring, he remained involved in business activities, serving on Johnson Controls’ Board of Directors and various other organizational boards: Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc. (Director 1991 - 2009, Treasurer 1993 - 2002, Chair of the Board 2003 - 2009), Drykor Ltd. of Israel (Chairman of the Board 2003 - 2012), GSE Systems, Inc. (Independent Director 2000 - 2018), Aircuity Inc. (Director) and Entek IRD International Corp. (Director).
Upon retiring in 1998, Joe and Mary Ellen continued exploring the world. When they weren’t traveling, they cherished time with family and friends, spending the winter months in Naples and summers in Elm Grove, Wisconsin.
Joe is survived by his four children – Jim, 63, (Gina, 59), Dan, 62, Pat, 60, and Lorie, 58 – and three grandchildren – Jaime, 27, Joey, 25, and Mary Ellen, 20. He will be greatly missed by other relatives and friends.
A gathering will be held on Sunday August 22, 2021, at Becker Ritter Funeral Home from 12:00 p.m. until the time of Funeral Service at 1 p.m. A private family burial will take place at a later date.