Disabled activists, politicians, family and friends have paid tribute to Roger Lewis, a dedicated and much-loved activist who played a key role in the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement over the last decade, and who died this week.
A string of fellow activists have described his determination, kindness, sense of fun, patience, and commitment to fighting injustice and oppression.
He had been a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) since 2011, and he played a leading role in many DPAC protests and direct actions.
Paula Peters, a fellow member of the DPAC steering group, said: “He taught us so much, made me laugh, made me smile and gave so much to the movement of which he was such a big part.
“I will remember the big roars, the little roars, and sharing his day-to-day experiences of visual impairment, his sense of fun and wicked sense of humour, and his sharp political perspective.”
His sister, Jenny, said: “He was an incredible, inspirational man who cared more about others than himself.
“We have lost one of the truly good people in this world. He will be badly missed but so very, very fondly remembered by the many, many people whose lives he touched.”
John McDonnell, a Labour MP, former shadow chancellor and a long-time DPAC supporter, said: “Roger was a tremendous and courageous campaigner for disabled people.
“With his wonderful speeches and by his example he inspired us all to fight for the rights of disabled people.
“Roger always led from the front with determination and compassion. It was a privilege to count him as a friend and comrade. He will be so greatly missed.”
DPAC steering group member Bob Ellard said Lewis (pictured) was “such a lovely guy, with warmth and a cracking sense of humour”.
He said: “I also had the privilege of his quiet wisdom in our discussions within the DPAC steering group; he had the ability to disagree gently but persuasively against a prevailing consensus, and his thoughts on an issue were always valuable.”
Ellen Morrison, Labour’s disabled members’ representative on its national executive committee, said Lewis had been “welcoming, supportive and patient” when she was a young activist who was new to the disabled people’s movement.
She said: “You could learn so much from him, not just about politics and theory and the policies we desperately need in the here and now, but he demonstrated kindness and decency in everything he did, too.
“He fought hard for a better world, but he did it with an infectious sense of joy and fun.”
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “He was a dedicated disability rights activist, a key member of DPAC and socialist who lived by the principles of solidarity and community.
“He was also a really kind and lovely bloke, always willing to do what he could to support and contribute to our movement. He will be greatly missed.”
Justine Jones, co-chair of Inclusion London and co-founder of Bromley Experts by Experience, said Lewis was “an amazing person – in an effortless way”.
She said: “He was such a lovely person, who always made me feel heard and what I had to say valued.
“Despite his pain, he focused on supporting others. What I admired most about him was that he was a proactive and fearless campaigner, and he will always be remembered with respect within the disability community.
“He always had such wise words. Without him, when faced with difficult questions, we will have to learn to say to ourselves, ‘What would Roger say?’”
Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, remembers how supportive Lewis had been to the “hitherto insular mental health survivor movement” when it united with other disabled people to resist the government’s welfare cuts and reforms in 2010.
She said: “Roger welcomed us with open arms, he included our voices everywhere, fully integrating us into the wider disability movement.
“It went way beyond his political activism. He was eager to understand our experiences at every level and made it his business to open doors for us.
“I will remember of Roger that he gave to others, unconditionally, his positivity and hope, his wisdom, intelligence and thoughtfulness, all of these things he shared freely, asking nothing in return.
“He was more than a political activist; he was a man who was profoundly in touch with his humanity and with that of others.
“I think of Roger as someone who gave and then gave again.”
Roger Lewis was born in June 1962, near Ipswich, the son of two teachers who were humanists and socialists, and he attended a rural secondary modern school.
Although he struggled to engage with school and did not excel academically, he became interested in politics as a teenager, began to read voraciously and moved to south-east London in the early 1980s.
He settled in Brixton and began working for Lambeth council as a support worker for disabled adults, and joined the Socialist Workers Party.
He developed arthritis in his early 20s and began to lose his sight in his early 30s, due to retinitis pigmentosa.
When he became completely blind, he fought off attempts by Lambeth council to make him redundant, and he remained employed by the council, running community groups for visually-impaired and Deaf residents.
As a member of Unison, he represented many disabled workers as they fought against discrimination.
He was being examined following a possible heart attack earlier this month when he was found to have advanced stomach cancer.
Friends and family say he was cheerful to the end, and repeatedly thanked the NHS staff for their exemplary care.
Funeral details will be posted soon on DPAC’s website.
Picture by Pete Riches