In tribute to Mac Lewis, who passed away in March 2020, the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Waterloo is honoured to create the Mac Lewis Memorial Award in Classics, in collaboration with his family and friends. This annual award will recognize and support those students, in Classics or Anthropology, who share Mac’s passion for Greek and Roman archaeology or material culture. We are deeply saddened by the loss of Mac and hope you will join with us in honouring his life and accomplishments, which, as you will see from the stories below, were inspiring.
Mac Lewis was a Roman archaeologist and professor at the University of Waterloo, whose kindness and passion for learning touched his colleagues and students deeply. Mac first uncovered his love of the Classics as a child through a fascination with mythology and philosophy, which would lead him on a life-long journey of intellectual and geographical discovery until his death in 2020. He completed his Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology at Florida State University in 2013, specializing in Roman archaeology, and from 2012 was the Director of the Villa del Vergigno excavation in Tuscany. Before coming to Canada and Waterloo, he taught at institutions of higher learning around the world, including the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, Concordia College, and the University of Wyoming. For the many students he taught, especially those who went with him to Tuscany to dig in the summers, he was a mentor and a friend.
The tangibility and physicality of archaeology, the wonder of touching with modern fingers the day-to-day realities of the ancient world, these were the driving forces behind Mac’s approach to the study of Greco-Roman antiquity. He was an accomplished Latinist with a profound appreciation for Classical literature, but it was digging in the Italian earth, trying to reconstruct the everyday experiences of the ancient inhabitants of Vergigno, which brought the past alive for him. Mac was not afraid to get his hands dirty and he was not afraid of the messy detail of archaeology. Excavation is often a painstaking process of discovery, requiring patience and careful attention to small objects and features; fragmentary pieces of evidence like the stones of an extra-dimensional mosaic, from whose assembly emerges, slowly, a diachronic picture. One can understand why, when an article in a local newspaper in Montelupo once compared Mac to Indiana Jones, he rolled his eyes; there were no snake pits and hastily discovered shiny objects at Vergigno! But Mac was more Indiana Jones to those around him than he realized. We cannot be sure of his facility with a whip, nor did he bear a particular resemblance to Harrison Ford, but he did, like Indiana Jones, approach life with an unremitting sense of wonder and adventure, the daring to step into the unknown, and the humility to know that the most beautiful object is not always the best or most significant. He knew how to choose wisely.
Mac liked to say that the most valuable piece of evidence an archaeologist could uncover is a coin, because this provided definitive evidence of dating. Thinking of future archaeologists, and their possible frustrations, it was his habit when passing a modern building site to throw in a coin. Put differently, archaeology created for Mac a link between past, present, and future, a way of seeing the world and our place within it that transcends the nitty gritty of an individual dig, person, place, or time. For those who knew Mac, his family, friends, and students, memories of him act like coins; deposits he made which help to date and link different strata of life, guides to help construe the many small elements which together constitute the world around us; deposits which inspire curiosity and a passion for exploration; deposits which will stand the test of time. Please see video of Mac doing what he liked to do.
The Mac Lewis Memorial Award in Classics continues this legacy, honouring Mac’s passion for archaeology, his wonder at the diversity of the world around him, his spirit of exploration, and his commitment to inspiring future generations. We invite you to join with us by making a gift to the fund in Mac’s memory. All gifts are greatly appreciated. You may make a gift securely on-line here.
Please feel free to join Mac's memorial website.