Stranger’s act of integrity brings light to one woman’s life following tragedy

When Jill Lewis lost her wedding rings in a Trustee Hall bathroom mid-September, she saw the tragedy of the past two years flash before her eyes. But after the rings turned up on Facebook and were returned to her the next day, she came to the conclusion that she had a lot to be thankful for.

Jill is a current professor at St. Edward’s University, but she is also an alumni of the university’s Masters of Science in Leadership and Ethics (MSOLE) program. On Sept. 14, Jill made her way to a bathroom in Trustee Hall before the start of the business class she teaches. She removed her rings to wash her hands, forgetting to put them back on. She left them on the sink. When she realized the rings were gone, she was distraught.

One of the missing rings belonged to Lewis’ husband, Clifton Harris. The couple enjoyed motorcycle riding. In May 2014, they rode across town with several friends as they had done many times, Clifton in front and Jill holding onto him tightly from behind. This ride, however, did not end like the others. As they rode along, a car swung into their lane in front of them leaving Clifton with no time to stop. The motorcycle collided into the side of the car. Both were flown by helicopter to Brackenridge Hospital. Jill suffered a head injury resulting from a brain hemorrhage, many broken bones and ended up in a coma for a few days. Her husband, Clifton, died.

Jill had no recollection of the accident, but she can never forget the pain she felt afterward. She had only been married to her husband for 77 days.

“I remember stopping and getting gas right before that happened and I woke up in the hospital several days later,” Jill said.

In remembrance of her husband, Jill had his wedding band resized to fit her and committed to wearing it everyday.

During that time period, Jill was enrolled in the MSOLE program at St. Edward’s. As she mourned the death of her husband, she also worried about how she would complete her demanding coursework while suffering from broken bones and a broken heart.

She contemplated dropping out of the program to focus on her health but decided to stay as a way to keep some sense of normalcy in her life.

“It was the only thing that was normal to me because everything else was just like somebody came along and blew up my house and all my stuff in it,” Jill said.

Although she made the decision to continue her master’s program, she did not actually know how she would pull it off while stuck in the hospital.That’s when her classmates and professors did something that Jill says changed her life.

Following Jill’s accident, her classmates and professor moved the class to a digital classroom in the library so that she could attend through video conference. Additionally, every Monday night when the class met, a student would go to the hospital to sit with Jill and explain some of the concepts.

Jill stayed in the hospital for almost a month, and her classmates and professor continued to video her into class for the entirety of her hospital stay. But sometime during that month she was moved to a facility that had poor internet connectivity and so she could not video conference. Her class decided to come to the medical facility and have the class there with her.

Jill’s professor at the time, Kathleen Wilburn, says that even though everyone was catering to Jill, she never became dependent or weak.

“She already had an MBA. It would have been easy for her to decide not to finish another master’s degree, but she decided to stay with it,” Wilburn said. “She never asked for an extension on anything. I sent her an email a day with some inspirational quote to help her keep going. The injuries, on top of the loss of her husband, who was the soulmate she had finally found and to whom she had been married such a short time, would have taken anyone else down, but not Jill,” she said.

Jill says the support from the St. Edward’s community was beneficial to her recovery.

“St. Ed’s was so wonderful to me throughout that whole time. It makes me so emotional to think about how that many people can come together to help me get through that.”

Jill successfully graduated in August of 2015. She says simply being able to walk on the stage was significant.

“I could walk up the stairs to get on the stage and get my diploma and walk down the stairs’” Jill said. “We were all so happy that I was able to do that”.

Following graduation, Jill began teaching in the Fall of 2015. She believes that teaching has also help her heal tremendously.

“I started teaching and I just loved it. I’ve gotten great evaluations. In the face of something so hard and so tragic having something in my life that I loved so much was nice.”

It was on her way to one of her classes that she lost her ring- the day before her husband’s birthday.

“I was going crazy wondering how I was going to find out what happened to these rings,” she said.

After realizing that the rings were missing, Jill told her class about it and one of her students alerted her that he had seen a set of rings posted as found in a Facebook group and had been returned to Ragsdale Center lost and found.

“Any place else that ring would have been gone,” Jill said. “It just once again speaks to the amount of integrity that the university has and the people who go here. It’s a cultural thing,” she said.

After she received the rings, Jill attempted to contact and thank the student who returned it but was unable to.

Following our interview, Hilltop Views investigated and were able to help Jill meet the student, Sarah Valenzuela.

“I had no idea that she found them,” Valenzuela said. “I didn’t even know they were super nice or real silver. That’s crazy. I just wanted to do the right thing.”

While Jill continues to mourn her husband, she is grateful for the integrity of the St. Edward’s community.

“This level of integrity and compassion and care and going the extra mile, that is the culture of this university,” Jill said.