A passionate and innovative design educator
WILLIAM POWELL LEWIS November 18, 1931-June 11, 2022
Associate professor William (Bill) Lewis was a pioneer of engineering design education in Australia. Bill was a polymath with a strong social conscience.
Bill was born in Melbourne to Kelvin and Vivien and was their only child. Kelvin Lewis and Edward Powell Lewis (Bill’s grandfather) established the engineering company, Kelly and Lewis in the late 19th century. Kelly and Lewis designed and manufactured pumping equipment. Kelvin worked in the family business and later became its managing director during the 1920s. He continued in that role for the remainder of his working life.
Bill was an outstanding student at the prestigious Malvern and Melbourne Grammar schools. He completed his final school year of secondary study (year 12) for the first time in 1948. His subjects were English, physics, chemistry, and pure mathematics. Although his academic performance made him dux of the Melbourne Grammar school, Bill felt that he was too young to begin university, so in 1949 he decided to complete another final school year, this time focusing on humanities subjects: Greek and Roman history, modern history and applied mathematics. He achieved dux of the school for a second time.
In 2021, Bill was asked by his son (Anthony) and one of his grandsons (Jeremy) about his scholastic record and Bill was able to recall his essay topic for the Greek and Roman history exam, that is, “The development of Athenian democracy at the time of Pericles.” They were amazed that Bill could remember such detail after so many years. Anthony recalled that this was typical of Bill as he possessed an extraordinary memory.
Graham Syme was Bill’s good friend for 70 years. They met at Melbourne Grammar.
Recently, Graham offered an insight into Bill’s high moral principles that occurred during a chemistry class. A teacher had made a “scathing sneering remark” towards one of Bill’s classmates. Bill stood up and said, “That is a damned lie” to the teacher. In that era, teachers were referred to as masters, and insolence towards masters at Melbourne Grammar was a severe offence, usually resulting in severe corporal punishment. Graham reported that the teacher was, “wise enough to not hear what Bill said, and turned and started to write something on the blackboard”. Bill was prepared to stand up when he saw injustice perpetrated on his friend – an example of his fearless morality.
Bill graduated with a bachelor’s degree with first class honours in mechanical engineering from the University of Melbourne in 1954. He then received a scholarship to train as an engineering draftsman at Rolls-Royce Aerospace in Derby, England. Bill later returned to Melbourne and worked as an engineer with Kelly and Lewis for five years.
In 1962, Bill joined the engineering faculty at the University of Melbourne as a lecturer. Bill gained his PhD in the early 1970s by investigating the development of creative design skills in undergraduate engineering students.