Bernadette C. Lewis, 26, cancer, HIV researcher Chase Brexton volunteer


Bernadette C. Lewis, a University of Maryland health worker who went into Baltimore's neighborhoods warning adolescents of the dangers of AIDS, died Sunday when she fell from a moving railroad train in Southwest Baltimore. Police determined her death to be an accident.

She was 26 and had lived on South Paca Street.

On the staff of the University of Maryland's Institute of Human Virology, she had been going into city neighborhoods and talking with teen-agers, teaching them about HIV transmission.

"She wanted to get out of the lab and work directly with people, teaching adolescents to help themselves and prevent HIV from spreading," said her father, Jeffrey Lewis, who lives in Ashland, Wis. He described his daughter as a "person who wanted to save the world," full of aspirations and hopes within the medical profession.

Known as "Berni," she volunteered at Chase Brexton Clinic, a health agency in the 1000 block of Cathedral St. Beginning in March 1998 she worked in its women's health clinic.

"She was a warm and conscientious volunteer," said Rhonda Van Roekel, director of Chase's volunteer services.

Ms. Lewis had been employed at the University of Maryland since 1997 where she worked in labs conducting research in two fields -- the possible environmental causes of breast cancer and HIV infections.

"She had enormous knowledge of HIV and breast cancer," said a colleague, Dr. Ming Lin Li "She wanted to apply her knowledge to help high school students."

She had plans to go to medical school and wanted to become a rural family physician. "She would go out on a limb for people," said Kristel Schorr, a co-worker at the University of Maryland.

Born in Fridley, Minn., she was class valedictorian at Kenton High School in Kenton, Ohio, where she graduated in 1991. She majored in biology at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., where she graduated in 1995.

She moved to Baltimore and worked as a lab technician at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation in Rockville.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Messiah Lutheran Church in Washburn, Wis.

She is survived by her parents, Jeffrey and Debra Lewis of Ashland; a brother, Reter E. Lewis of Ashland; two sisters, Jenine N. Lewis of St. Paul, Minn., and Emily J. Lewis of Ashland; her companion, Sun-hun Seo of Philadelphia; her paternal grandparents, L. Clifford and Jacqueline Lewis of Mantoloking, N.J., and her maternal grandparents, Kenneth and Millicent Vetsch of Monticello, Minn.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad