Albert “Albie” Lewis ’73 & M’98
“The real leader displays his quality in his triumphs over adversity, however great it may be.”
– George C. Marshall
Leading Through Crises
Colonel Albert “Albie” Lewis ’73 & M’98 knows something about adversity.
Long before a horse kick to the head scuttled his bid to compete as a modern pentathlete on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, he encountered what could have been an early signpost on the road of hard luck: abandonment by his Army-veteran father when Albie was only a year old. “He just left town, never to be seen again,” Albie recalls.
Yet neither that event, nor the resulting eight years that Albie spent as a ward of the state in Pennsylvania—at the Scotland School for Veterans’ Children—threw him. Conversely, his early resilience signaled a true leader’s determination to treat setbacks like so many jumps in the equestrian ring, sailing right over them.
In Kreitzberg Library after a morning of manual work—he is building a camp on Stony Brook Road in Northfield—Albie recalls, without judgment or bitterness, his mother’s difficult decision to turn him over to the state because she “just couldn’t manage” raising him by herself, saying, “about half the kids at Scotland School had one parent.” He smiles as he recalls his mother, who had moved from Pennsylvania back to her hometown of Northfield, Vt., inviting him to live with her permanently the summer before his senior year of high school.
As a “three-year private in the Corps of Cadets” he had no intention of pursuing a military career. “Nor could I have imagined retiring as a full-bird colonel,” Albie chuckles. “If you had ever told me where I would be today, or how I got here, I would have said you were crazy. But destiny is funny.”
In the 1980 Olympic trials, still recovering from broken cheekbones and a shattered eye socket, Albie finished 34th. He pulled himself back up and, later that year, parlayed his experience into two silver medals at the 1980 NATO Council of Reserve Officers Games.
In his 28-year career with the Vermont National Guard, he helped establish the Army Mountain Warfare School. He also commanded the Weapons of Mass Destruction 15th Civil Support Team, served as chief of the military liaison team to the U.S. Embassy in Macedonia, and still found time to volunteer with the Berlin, Vt., fire department, serving two years as chief. After retiring from the Guard at the rank of colonel, he went on to direct Vermont’s emergency management team, leading task forces that responded to weather events and other disasters. Today he is a federal coordinating officer (FCO) for FEMA, one of 35 FCOs nationwide, appointed by the president, to coordinate federal assistance for state-declared disasters.
His leadership style is simple: “A good leader helps others succeed.”
But with all his successes, Albie has never lost sight of his humble beginnings and those who helped him along the way. When, as a senior at Norwich, it came time to do his student teaching as a requirement for his phys-ed degree, he chose to return to the Scotland School for Veterans’ Children. “To experience that culture from the perspective of a teacher changed my worldview,” he says. Working with children has remained a priority in his life, and 2016 marks his 17th year as a volunteer leader at Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, a year-round camp for children battling cancer.
He calls it destiny. But to overcome such hurdles and gallop head-on into a full life—that also takes determination.