Everyday Hero: Volunteer a princess to nursing homes

Published 12:10 am Friday, April 4, 2014

NATCHEZ — Dixie Lewis is “The Little Prince’s” version of a princess to the nursing home community’s fox.

Lewis, 86, devotes herself to spreading cheer in Natchez nursing homes every Wednesday. She’s been doing it in Natchez for over 20 years, and though it’s been 50 years since she’s read “The Little Prince,” she still uses the story’s friendship between the prince and the fox as a motivator to reach four nursing homes every Wednesday.

“It’s supposed to be a child’s book, but it’s not,” Lewis said. “It’s filled with all sort of philosophies.”

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Natchez resident Dixie Lewis devotes herself to spreading cheer to area nursing home residents each by visiting and reading the story, “The Little Prince.”

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Natchez resident Dixie Lewis devotes herself to spreading cheer to area nursing home residents each by visiting and reading the story, “The Little Prince.”

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In the 1943-published novel, a prince wanted to befriend a fox, but the fox laid down some ground rules first. The fox told the prince if the prince tames the fox, the prince should always come visit at the same time, so the fox can get excited and look forward to the prince’s arrival.

“It made so much sense to me,” Lewis said, relating to her visits in the nursing home. “They expect me. We expect each other.”

Every Wednesday, Lewis wakes up bright and early to visit Magnolia House’s assisted living facility, Adams County Nursing Home, Glenburney Nursing Home and ends her day at Crown Health & Rehab before she tries to make the 5:30 p.m. mass at Trinity Episcopal Church. Lewis is a member of Trinity and Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Vidalia, rotating every week.

Sandy Boykin, an administrative assistant at Adams County Nursing Home, called Lewis a great person, inside and out, and Boykin said Lewis’ arrival brightens the day of many.

“She’s the sunshine of their day,” Boykin said. “People are always like, ‘where’s she at?’”

Patients make it known to Lewis how much they anticipate her visit.

“There’s one lady there that says, ‘oh it’s Wednesday’ every time she sees me,” Lewis said. “I love that. And one time another lady told me, ‘You know what, Wednesday is Dixie day and Friday is fish day.’”

Most of the people Lewis visits are actually younger than her.

“There are some young people who are old, and there are some old people who are young,” Lewis said. “I can’t explain it.”

Lewis also can’t explain how she started regularly visiting. It dates back to her days in Arkansas before she moved to Natchez in 1986. She went to see a friend once in Helena, Ark., and the visiting hours snowballed, transforming Lewis into a regular.

Lewis, who was born in Memphis, moved to Natchez when 95 Country asked her to provide six weeks of her time with the radio station. Like her nursing home visits, the hours spent in the studio multiplied quickly.

“Every time I’d try to leave, they’d say just give us one more week,” Lewis said. “About five and a half years later I said look, ‘my six weeks is up.’”

By that time, Lewis fell in love with Natchez and was determined to make her presence known at nursing homes.

Lewis stays busy working, informing people in the Natchez Mall about perfume products from Purlux, but the highlight of her week is always in the nursing homes, where she is adored, even by the crankiest of patients.

“I remember one lady was fussy,” Lewis said. “She always fussed at me when I went in. Instead of answering with a fussy response, I said ‘I love you.’ In a fussy tone of voice she said, ‘that’s what God has you for, to love me.’ That’s what God has us all here for.”

Wednesday only lasts so long for Lewis, so her time is often spread thin. But even though she keeps a furious pace, Lewis always has and said she always will make time for the nursing homes.

“I love those folks, and I know that they love me,” Lewis said. “I won’t miss going. They look forward to it, and I do too. It keeps me going.”