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San Clemente Journal

Lewis Avera - A Most Remarkable Gentleman

Dec 23, 2022 09:38AM ● By Mike Chamberlin

Lew Avera lives at the San Clemente Villas.

by Mike Chamberlin

By mere chance I happened to bump into a most remarkable gentlemen at a San Clemente Historical Society gathering. His name is Lewis Avera, but his friends call him Lew. He has crammed more into his life than any ten people I know combined. 

Lew is 89 years old, or as he told me, “I’m five months shy of 90!” Born in Ithaca, New York, and raised in Decatur, Georgia, his southern roots would play a large part in the many twists and turns of his long life, including a remarkable military career. 

As a teenager in Georgia. Lew played football at Decatur Boys High School because “Girls liked football players.” His coach, Charlie Waller, instilled something in him that he carried his whole life when he told Lew and his teammates, “On this field you never walk a step; you run steps.” And Lew has never stopped running. 

His football career was interrupted in Georgia when his military dad was transferred to Hawaii in 1949. The family naturally followed. At 16 years of age, with a newly acquired drivers’ license, he drove his mom and brother across the country on Route 66 to San Francisco, where the family boarded a military transport. His dad greeted them upon arrival at Pearl Harbor, which Lew called, “meaningful and emotional.” Pearl Harbor had been bombed just a few years earlier. Lew finished high school on Oahu in 1951, and then made the reverse trip back to the mainland to pursue a military career at The Citadel. 

Lew and his family at his retirement in 1974.


He had wanted to join the U.S Air Force but he was color blind and they declined him. So, he applied to The Citadel in South Carolina, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree, and shortly after that a Master of Arts degree from George Washington University, followed by a law degree from American University in Washington, D.C. Keep in mind, Lew was a fully commissioned officer and a full-fledged Marine, and he served 2 tours of duty in Vietnam. His management skills allowed him to control the flow of marines transferring in and out of Vietnam and to oversee the travel budget for over 17,000 Marine Corp officers. And as if that wasn’t enough, he was responsible for a two-million-dollar post exchange operation consisting of three retail outlets, two restaurants, and three gasoline stations. By the time he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the Marines, he had run up a long list of personal decorations:
•  Bronze Star with Combat “V”
•  Meritorious Service Medal
•  Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V”
•  Navy Achievement Medal
•  Vietnam Cross of Gallantry
•  Combat Action Ribbon
Most men would have called that a career and then slipped into an early retirement. Lew was just getting started. His military management skills proved beneficial in the corporate world. The same year, 1975, now retired from the Marines, he used his law degree and management skills to go to work for the prestigious law firm of Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, where he was responsible for administrative support operations. That lasted two years, when he took a job opportunity at the University of Southern California Comprehensive Cancer Center as operations director overseeing millions of dollars of federal and private grants. His second career also included the Managing Director of Human Resources for Price Waterhouse, overseeing 1600 consultants with revenues of $600 million dollars. Whew!

But Lew wasn’t done yet, in 2004 he became the foreman of the Orange County Grand Jury, selected from over 200 applicants. And then…retirement, well sort of. By this time he had moved to San Clemente, buying one of the first HOA model homes in Talega. His time as a Captain at Camp Pendleton in 1963 must have made an impression because he immediately became involved in local politics, serving almost ten years on the San Clemente Planning Commission, including the overseeing of the development of the Outlet Mall. 
Mall Director Susan Jennrich has high praise for Lew, stating, “I have always been impressed with Lew’s commitment to the city of San Clemente. I appreciate his involvement in the original planning process of the Outlets at San Clemente.” She added, “He wears his passion on his sleeve and has been part of the city’s fabric for decades.” 

Lew was also involved the development of the San Clemente Villas, where he now resides. In addition, he was a founding member of Saint Andrews Methodist Church, and he wrote a column called “Lew’s Views” for the San Clemente Times.

But why San Clemente as his final destination … “The weather, it’s never too hot or too cold and the uniqueness of a small community.”
All said and done, what was Lewis Vera’s secret to success on many different levels? “Collaboration, you can’t get it done by yourself.”

Semper Fi, Lew.