The Tale of the Banana Tree

What should I give everyone for Christmas? I’m always in a quandary about what to give my adult children. I imagine that their closets are overflowing with the usual winter weather gifts I give each year – toboggans, scarves, and gloves. Are my friends growing tired of fruitcake? What gift would be appreciated the most this year?

When thinking about giving, I think of Clayton Lewis. Clayton was on the staff at Chowan as Dean of Men and later as Director of Foundations and Corporate Relations. He dedicated 27 years of his life to Chowan.

 What really made Clayton special to me was his continuous love for Chowan students. The Lewises have multiple scholarships at Chowan. They were always so curious about the students receiving their scholarships and wanted to know all about them. They were thrilled to know the students they were helping.

After Clayton and his wife, Mary Alice retired, they moved to Charlotte to be near their son, Hugh. Each time I visited, I noted a Chowan flag flying proudly at the entrance to their home. The visit always concluded with a tour of their yard with its numerous plantings. On one visit, I saw several humongous banana trees in their backyard. Clayton proudly beamed as he explained how they had started with one small plant and it had grown into what now appeared to be a tropical jungle. It was amazing!

Several months later, I heard someone knocking on my office door on the third floor of McDowell Columns. I opened the door and there stood Clayton with a 7-foot banana tree with the root ball wrapped in black plastic. I could not believe that Clayton had brought the tree from Charlotte and that he had carried it up the steps of Columns to my office. I was thrilled but worried about getting it back down the stairs. I drew many curious stares as I struggled to carry the tree down the steps.

The treasured tree was planted in our side yard. The banana tree has thrived and produced many offspring over the years. My family enjoys seeing it sprout new leaves each spring from the brown weathered winter foliage. Each time my children return home, they always want “to check the banana tree to see if it has borne fruit.” We were pleased to see tiny bananas this summer. Sadly, the Lewises are no longer with us but their spirits are ever-present.

This is just one example of Clayton’s heart for giving and how he touched my life in a unique way. For years, the Chowan Advancement Office would receive a contribution from Clayton every week. Being a wise man, Clayton always made his gifts in honor of someone. He might select a fellow Rotarian from his Charlotte chapter, a member of his church, or even a member of the Chowan community. The Advancement Office notified the honorees of the gift from Clayton and Mary Alice. I asked Clayton why he honored people with his gifts and he said that was his way of telling them about Chowan University, the scholarship program, and other projects.

I could go on and on with stories of Clayton’s dedication to the institution that held his heart. In a special way, Clayton never really retired from Chowan. Clayton’s generous spirit of giving and his methods personify the true Christian servant. This season, won’t you follow Clayton’s example and make a gift to Chowan University in honor of a friend, colleague, or family member? We will acknowledge your contribution with a special Chowan Christmas card. Thank you for your dedicated support of Chowan. May the joy and peace of Christmas be with you all throughout the New Year

 Kay Thomas

Ways to Give


Make a gift online with our secure online giving portal. It’s easy to support Chowan from your computer or even your mobile device. Just fill in your gift designation and payment information and harness the full power of the internet to make an immediate difference for the Chowan community.


Make your gift over the phone by calling (252) 398-1233 any business day between 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. to provide your credit card information. We accept Discover, MasterCard, and Visa. Your gift will be recorded the day we process your credit card information.


To make a gift by mail send your check or money order, payable to Chowan University, to:

Chowan University
Office of Development
One University Place
Murfreesboro, NC 27855

Please provide your name, class year and gift designation (the program, department, or project for which your gift is intended).