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Rev. Lewis L. Flowers, known as the “Mayor of the West Side,” dies at 62

The Rev. Lewis L. Flowers

The Rev. Lewis L. Flowers

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Updated: January 11, 2013 6:23AM

The Rev. Lewis L. Flowers gained the unofficial title of “Mayor of the West Side” because of his longtime efforts to ensure jobs, health care, better education and fair housing and property-tax treatment for his home community and its people.

Rev. Flowers, 62, president and chairman of the Westside Ministers Coalition and founder and pastor of Austin Community Ministries, died early Sunday after a short illness.

“He did monumental amounts of work,” said Athena Williams, the coalition’s project manager. “He was a brother, a father and the go-to person for everyone in the community. Most of all, he was a friend.”

“Everyone knew they could count on his counsel, wisdom and knowledge of what to do and who to call about how to navigate the maze of City Hall,” according to a coalition news release Sunday.

The Rev. Ira Acree, of Greater St. John Bible Church in the Austin neighborhood, recalled how Rev. Flowers fought for West Side jobs and better schools before former Mayor Richard M. Daley and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“What an amazing trajectory” from the time Rev. Flowers and Acree’s father drove taxis in the early 1970s, Acree said.

“I will always remember [Rev. Flowers] for standing up for the little guy,” Acree said.

Under Rev. Flowers’ leadership, the Westside Ministers Coalition sponsored housing fairs, job fairs, health fairs, property tax appeal workshops and predatory-lending forums.

Flowers set up groups to make the efforts stick. He served as president and founding partner of the Westside Service Providers Network; chairman of the Austin Business & Entrepreneurship Academy High School; founding partner of Partners for Inclusive Employment; founding board member of the Westside Jobs Collaborative and as a leader of a host of other advocacy groups.

He worked at the grassroots level, too, organizing a parents’ patrol to help ensure a secure area around Austin High School. With the coalition, he oversaw the opening of community technology centers in local churches where students could talk with educators, psychologists and social service professionals. His long list of activities included serving as a CAPS beat facilitator; a local school council member, and a district council representative with the Chicago Public Schools.

Rev. Flowers’ younger daughter, Blaire Flowers, said Sunday that after her father recently came down with pneumonia, he had to rest and couldn’t attend his many meetings.

“The saying was, you could call him before you could call 911 if you had an emergency,” said Blaire Flowers, 28. “As a father, he was awesome. He was strong and he wanted to teach his children to be there for each other.”

Three of his five children work at the Westside Ministers Coalition: Durand Flowers, 38, as job coordinator; Elijah, 30, in technical support, and Blaire, as director, Blaire Flowers said.

His other children are Duwone Flowers, 42, a comedian, musician, writer and producer in Lawrence, Kan., and Lanita Joyner, 32, a pharmacy technician in Oxford, Ga.

Rev. Flowers credited his upbringing in the Cabrini-Green housing development as the son of a pastor and his U.S. Army service in Vietnam from 1968-1970 as propelling him into a life of service.

He started working with young people in his first job with the Chicago Public Schools and the Neighborhood Youth Corps.

He found his calling as a minister while attending Fountain of Life Baptist Church, under the direction of the Rev. Marvin J. Yancy, and was ordained in 1979.

Soon after, the Rev. Clay Evans, president of community outreach for the Broadcast Ministers Alliance, appointed Rev. Flowers as director of community outreach for the alliance.

From 1979 to 1993, Rev. Flowers served as co-pastor of United Faith Tabernacle Church. In 1993, he became community representative for the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, founded and opened Austin Community Ministries, and became community outreach director for the Westside Ministers Coalition at the request of its then-president, the Rev. Charlie Murray.

Other survivors include his wife of 31 years, Cynthia Flowers; brothers Victor, Cornelius and Dennis; sisters Aretha Johnson, Jocelyn Flowers and Lorinda Scott; nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Rev. Flowers became president of the ministers’ coalition in 1999, and after obtaining his Ph.D. in theological education from Tabernacle Bible College, he added the title of chairman of the coalition.

A celebration of life service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Pleasant Ridge Missionary Baptist Church, 116 S. Central. Burial will take place after the service at Oak Ridge Cemetery, 4301 W. Roosevelt Rd., Hillside.

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