Photo caption: A promotional shot shows Darryl Lewis Sr. during his days as a Fairbanks television news anchor and reporter. Photo courtesy of KTVF Channel 11.
The news sent the man into hysterics — he’d met a real-life star.
“He was telling everyone, ‘That dude is famous, he’s famous! Darryl Lewis, Newscenter 11!’” Lewis said with a chuckle. “He was going out of his mind, out of his mind.”
It’s been nearly seven years since Lewis moved away from Fairbanks for a new life in Denver, but moments like that underscore the lasting impact he made on his adopted hometown.
With a commanding 6-foot-4-inch frame and a deep, powerful voice, Lewis is hard to miss. He spent nearly three decades establishing a big presence in the Golden Heart City, first as an Alaska Nanooks basketball player and later as a high-profile newsman.
“To this day, I think, he’s one of the best-known people in Fairbanks,” said Brian O’Donoghue, a retired University of Alaska Fairbanks journalism professor and longtime friend. “The big man makes a big impression.”
‘We’re going to take care of you’
It’s a bit ironic, because young Darryl Lewis couldn’t have been a more reluctant Fairbanksan.
The Columbus, Ohio, native was playing hoops for a junior college in California in the mid-’80s when he got an offer to continue his basketball career at UAF. Lewis was one of six kids raised by a single mom, and he figured the full-ride scholarship was the only way he’d be able to afford a college education.
But almost as soon as he agreed to head north, Lewis began looking for a way out. He’d never been to Alaska, and the thought of heading to a small, frozen outpost gave him cold feet.
He called Nanooks men’s basketball coach George Roderick to say he’d reconsidered, spent a few weeks working at a Burger King in California, then reconsidered again. On the way to Alaska, he changed his mind a third time. He called his mother from the Seattle airport to say he was coming home. After Mom cussed him out, Lewis hung his head and got on the plane.
Lewis arrived in Fairbanks a week late for school in September 1985, crying during the drive to his dorm room at Lathrop Hall. When he met his teammates, Lewis discovered he was the only Black player on the team.
Photo caption: Lewis takes a selfie soon after his promotion to lieutenant with the Colorado Department of Corrections. Photo by Darryl Lewis Sr.
It didn’t take long for Lewis to realize that sitting around wasn’t for him, leading to a surprising career shift as a corrections officer. Lewis said his path was greatly influenced by the legacy of his good friends Scott Johnson and Gabe Rich, two Alaska State Troopers who were killed in the line of duty in 2014.
“I wanted to make a difference and do my part,” he said. “You try to hold people accountable, you try to treat people the way you want to be treated.”
Lewis was promoted to lieutenant nearly a year ago, and he now serves as a shift commander at a corrections complex in Denver.