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Remembering B. Robert Lewis

  • B. Robert Lewis with a cat

    Remembering B. Robert Lewis

    Learn more about the namesake of our small animal hospital.

    Photo courtesy of B. Robert Lewis family

B. Robert Lewis began his veterinary practice in St. Louis Park, Minn., in 1962. A few years later, he became active in local politics and was elected as the first African American member of the Minnesota State Senate. His legislative career came to an abrupt end when he died of a heart attack in 1979 at 47 years of age. His body laid in state at the Minnesota Capitol Rotunda, where 500 mourners filed by.

What few remember is that as chair of the Senate’s Finance Subcommittee on Health, Welfare and Corrections, Lewis championed funding for the construction of the University’s new small animal hospital. In 1982, the small animal hospital’s portion of the building was named in his honor.

Born in Hutchinson, Kan., Bert Robert Lewis earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree in 1960 from Kansas State University. After briefly practicing in Omaha, Neb., Lewis purchased a veterinary practice in St. Louis Park. 

When he moved to the Minneapolis suburb, there were very few African American residents. He opened the Oak Knoll Animal Hospital and would eventually own the Spring Gate Veterinary Practice in nearby Golden Valley.

B. Robert Lewis illustration
B. Robert Lewis

Lewis was immediately active in organized veterinary medicine—serving as an officer of the Metropolitan Animal Hospital Association and leading a committee of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association. In 1966, he ran successfully for the St. Louis Park School Board, becoming the first African American elected to any position in the suburban Twin Cities. In 1971, Lewis was appointed to the State Board of Education, and was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 1972.

Senator Lewis was known for his concern for people who suffered from any kind of oppression. He exercised special leadership on issues addressing the needs of senior citizens, the economically disadvantaged, people with disabilities, those who are incarcerated, marginalized people, feminists, and victims of domestic violence.

Lewis was a founding member of the St. Louis Park Human Relations Council, vice chairman of the St. Louis Park Planning Commission, and on the board of the Minneapolis Urban League, where he was voted Man of the Year. In 1975, he was named Veterinarian of the Year by the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association.

Lewis died of a sudden heart attack at his home in Golden Valley on April 25, 1979, at the age of 47. His body laid in state at the Minnesota Capitol Rotunda, where 500 mourners filed by.

The Lewis Hospital for Companion Animals in the Veterinary Medical Center building on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus in St. Paul was named after Lewis on April 23, 1983. Following a 2016 remodeling, the name was changed to the Lewis Small Animal Hospital to more clearly reflect the service in this facility.