Lewis M. Anthony, a loquacious pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church who led congregations in Washington and long straddled the city’s religious and political communities with his outreach ventures, died May 28 at his mother’s home in Fort Washington, Md. He was 65.
The cause was liver cancer, said his mother, Marlene Anthony Carter.
Rev. Anthony, a Harvard Law School graduate, was regarded as one of the city’s most eloquent and in-demand speakers, a stalwart of commencement-day addresses, political conclaves, community gatherings, memorial services, prayer breakfasts, and pulpits of all denominations.
Political commentator Mark Plotkin likened him to the actor-comedian George Jessel, who became widely known last century as the “toastmaster general” of the United States. “Rev. Anthony was the opening act for any politician of consequence,” Plotkin said. “He was a must for the invocation and the benediction.”
He had shepherded St. Lucille A.M.E. Zion Church for the last several years, and before that he led Metropolitan Wesley and Varick Memorial churches. He was a long-standing protestant chaplain for the city’s police and fire departments. And he served on many church-related boards and committees, including those promoting religious education and anti-drug efforts.
Rev. Anthony’s oratorical skills had been recognized from a young age, while he was growing up in Anacostia, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. He was a 17-year-old student at Anacostia High School in 1969 when he was tapped to speak at the rededication of District of Columbia Stadium in honor of the slain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.).
He invoked Kennedy’s time as attorney general during the early 1960s, when he had helped find summer jobs for hundreds of District students and was pivotal in attaining congressional funds to repair and reopen the long-shuttered Dunbar High School pool and build new playgrounds.
“His ear heard the cries of youth not raised in violence but pleading for a pool and a place to play and was told that these changes would have to wait and asked why,” the future preacher said. “And because he asked why, those who couldn’t find jobs were employed, swimming pools that couldn’t be opened were opened and the school improvements that had to wait were lessened.”
Walter E. Washington was reputedly so impressed that he offered the young man a position as adviser for youth affairs, a position he held for six years. He later became a speechwriter and religious liaison for Mayor Marion Barry Jr. and, in the mid-1980s, directed Del. Walter E. Fauntroy’s congressional district office.
In 2000, Rev. Anthony was in the first class of inductees into the Washington D.C. Hall of Fame, an honor sponsored by the Washington D.C. Hall of Fame Society and the Office of the City Historian. He was recognized for his work as a “widely traveled speaker, teacher and preacher” with a style of poetic grandeur.
In an interview, city historian Janette Hoston Harris called him “one of the most understanding ministers in our area. He related to the religious community and the political community. He wasn’t a person who just went to that one church to give his gift. He went wherever he was asked.”
Despite obvious frailty, Rev. Anthony went to an invocation a month before his death at the request of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). “He’d always come,” Hoston Harris said.
Lewis Marco Anthony was born in the District on March 4, 1952. He was 12 when his father left the family.
His mother, who then worked for the public school system as a book clerk, sent him to classes every day wearing a shirt and tie to reinforce expectations that he was to take his academics seriously. But she added that she was baffled by his precocious way with words, particularly his ability to cite Shakespeare extemporaneously by age 6.
Rev. Anthony received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University and a law degree from Harvard. He began the process of ordination soon after returning home from law school in the late 1970s.
He never married. Besides his mother, survivors include a brother, Orlondo Anthony of Arlington, Va. Rev. Anthony was a District resident.
“He was offered so many speaking requests,” his mother recalled. “They’d ask him, ‘What is your honorarium?’ He had none. He told me, ‘Momma, it’s hard for me to accept money for the gift that God has given me for speaking.’ ”
Read more Washington Post obituaries