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Eeve Lewis, longtime Sonoma County clerk, dies at 69

Eeve T. Lewis, a bespectacled and diligent immigrant who took a job as a clerk-typist for the county of Sonoma and a bit less than a decade later was elected to the first of her seven terms as the county clerk, died Tuesday.

Lewis, an affable administrator whose responsibilities came to involve serving also as the county assessor and recorder, in addition to her longstanding role as registrar of voters, was 69.

“The clerk’s responsibilities are the heart of county government,” the resident of Sebastopol once said.

She was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia not long after her retirement in 2006.

“It never slowed her down; it just didn’t,” said friend Janice Morrissey, whose surname was Atkinson when she was elected to succeed Lewis as Sonoma County Clerk and who served until mid-2012.

An avid traveler, Lewis didn’t let her declining health keep her from flying to Maui in February with her brother, John Lewis of Santa Rosa.

“She just loved sitting there by the pool and reading a book,” he said.

Through her 35 years with the county clerk’s office, 28 of them as its elected chief, Lewis seemed to enjoy one task above all others.

“She would swear in new citizens whenever she had a chance,” recalled Jim Harberson, a former county supervisor who worked many years with Lewis.

To administer the oath of citizenship to immigrants was sacred to Lewis because she took the oath herself in 1965, when she was 18 and the German-born daughter of a woman who had fled Estonia after its World War II occupation by the Soviet Union.

Lewis would tell newly naturalized American citizens, “You can get to be county clerk.”

She was 24 and had earned a master’s degree in English from what was then Sonoma State College when she began a clerical job with the county in 1971. Three years later she was promoted to assistant county clerk.

She had assumed increasing responsibilities within the office’s Superior Court, voter registration and Board of Supervisors divisions when County Clerk Eugene Williams died in 1977. She was appointed acting county clerk.

The following year, Lewis was one of four candidates who vied to succeed Williams as clerk. She won, at the age of 31. She was re-elected, often without opposition, to the six four-year terms that concluded with her retirement in 2006.

Former Supervisor Harberson, who served on the board from 1984 through 1998, recalled the cool-headed grace Lewis exhibited as consolidations of county functions increased her workload and the size of the staff under her supervision.

“She took on more and more and more responsibility and never complained,” he said. “She was a very valuable county employee.”

Said Roger McDermott, who was Sonoma County sheriff from 1979 through 1986, “I have lots of good memories of Eeve. She was a good person and she was good to everybody.”

Lewis had a rough start in life. She was born in 1947, two years after the end of World War II, in Geislingen, West Germany.

Her brother said their mother had fled her native Estonia after several members of her family were killed by the occupying Soviets. Eeve Lewis, her brother and her mother lived for three years in Germany while awaiting permission to emigrate to the United States.

John Lewis said they entered the country through Ellis Island and lived for a time in New York State and Connecticut. He said his mother married, then she and her husband drove the family cross country to California.

“A 1954 Chevy and a U-Haul trailer, that’s what we brought out here,” John Lewis said.

They settled in the Chico area. John Lewis said he wasn’t the greatest student, but his sister labored to master English and excel in all her classes.

“If she got an A-minus, she was upset,” he said.

Eeve Lewis graduated from Chico High School in 1965, then continued her education at Chico State. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English, then enrolled at Sonoma State to pursue her master’s.

She and her eventual successor as Sonoma County Clerk, Morrissey, worked together from 1972 until Lewis’ retirement a decade ago.

“She loved that job and she did it right,” Morrissey said.

“We had a good time and we worked hard. I’m sorry she didn’t get to enjoy more of her retirement, but she made the best of the time she had.”

Lewis died early Tuesday morning at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital.

Plans for memorial services are not yet complete.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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