BOLIVIA — Brunswick County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Ola M. Lewis, 54, died Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, at her home in Bolivia, after a two-year battle with a rare form of liver cancer.
The daughter of an 82nd Airborne paratrooper and two public school principals, Judge Ola learned early in life the value of hard work, education and public service. These values fueled a trailblazing journey, a journey that not only enabled her to use her court to bring justice to those deserving of such, but healing to many who needed recovery rather than incarceration.
Judge Ola grew up in Spring Lake, North Carolina, and later her family moved to Brunswick County. She followed in her father’s footsteps, graduating from Fayetteville State University before attending North Carolina Central Law School, where she graduated in 1990 with a Juris Doctorate. She worked one year in private practice with then North Carolina Speaker of the House Dan Blue before returning to her Brunswick County home to serve as a county prosecutor.
In 1993, only two years after returning home, Judge Ola was appointed district court judge. She would be the youngest judge serving at that time in North Carolina. She would serve in this role for seven years before being appointed by former Governor Jim Hunt in 2000 to serve as a “special superior court judge.” She traveled 21 counties in this role, telling friends and family her motto was “have gavel will travel.”
She remained on the bench until her death. Judge Ola is the longest serving female judge in the history of North Carolina. In her 19 years on the superior court bench, she served as special superior court judge, resident superior court judge and senior resident superior court judge.
During her time as judge, she fostered the county’s drug treatment court, helping hundreds of residents find sobriety and reduce inmate population and costs. Her drug court program created a national template that has since been used in other effective drug court programs throughout the United States.
Her transformative vision for her courtroom came from a love for the people whom she served, albeit, a tough love. Judge Ola fervently believed in the power of tough love to change a life for the better. That belief helped countless people recover to lead healthy, productive lives.
In 2017, she began the Brunswick County Opioid Addiction Task Force with Sheriff John Ingram. The task force’s charge was to raise awareness about opioids’ negative impacts on people, families and communities. In this role, Judge Ola encouraged Governor Roy Cooper to declare the opioid addiction crisis a statewide public health emergency.
In 2018, for this and her many other accomplishments, Governor Cooper awarded her the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
In 2010, The Honorable Governor Beverly Perdue awarded her the “Old North State Award.” In 2017, The Honorable Josh Stein, Attorney General for the State of North Carolina presented Judge Ola the “Dogwood Award” for her “dedication to keeping people safe, healthy and happy in their communities.”
Judge Ola was preceded in death by her father, Mose Lewis; and brother, Derrick Stovall.
She is survived by her loving husband of 16 years, Reginald Holley; mother, Doris Lewis; brother, Cliff Lewis, and his wife, Donna; and sisters, Peggy Walker and Pam Lewis. She is also survived by many beloved family members as well as a host of friends.
Judge Ola will lie in repose from noon to 5 p.m., Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, in the Rotunda of the Brunswick County Courthouse, with the family receiving visitors from noon until 2 p.m. The courthouse is located at 310 Government Center Drive, NE, Bolivia. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 4, at the Odell Williamson Auditorium on the campus of Brunswick Community College, 150 College Road, NE, Bolivia.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to Friends of Brunswick County Treatment Court, P.O. Box 10818, Southport, NC 28461.
Share online condolences with the family at Brunswick Funeral Service.