The Passing of the Baton

In memory of Sara Page Jackson Lewis

Sara Page Jackson Lewis of Wilmington, whose enthusiasm and happy spirit were symbolized by her flaming red hair, passed away January 19, 2021, in Wilmington, NC. Her son, Drew Lewis, reflects on his mother’s legacy in the essay below.

It is a cool fall day in 1948, and the Wake Forest College football stadium is at full capacity and buzzing with anticipation as the Wake Forest football team takes the field. Then, out of the stadium underground appears a beautiful Majorette, leading the marching band. She is strutting with high kicks, twirling her baton over her head, and finally tossing it high in the air and catching it.

Sara Page Jackson Lewis

In 1948, Wake Forest College helped knock down a musical glass ceiling when they selected a majorette to lead the marching band as opposed to the traditional drum major. The majorette, statuesque Sara Page Jackson of Elizabeth City, became a Carolinas sensation.

Jackson was an expert baton twirler, she stepped higher than a show horse, and, once in action, she mesmerized the crowd. During her four years as the first Chief Majorette at Wake Forest College, she brought fans on both sides to their feet as she strutted onto the football field ahead of the band, and during halftime shows. Sara Page recounted, “In my first year there were two majorettes and a drum major. They had their own uniforms – their own colors. I got uniforms, black and gold from my Elizabeth City High School Band and we wore them for the first game.” Seeing “Red”, as she was nicknamed, stride for Wake Forest must have been an eye-opener for many students at the formally all-male campus.

Jackson set a precedent at Wake Forest, and soon more and more, other colleges began searching for majorettes. In 1948, in Raleigh, Red led the Wake Forest College Band to honor President Truman. President Truman was in Winston Salem to dig the first shovel of dirt to begin the new campus which was to become what is now Wake Forest University. Red appeared on the cover of “Dealing with the Deacs” a Wake Forest football brochure in 1951. And in the same year, her picture appeared in “Southern Coach & Athlete” magazine as coed of the month. Her senior year, 1952, she was elected May Queen, Miss Demon Deacon, Secretary to the Student Body, VP of the Baptist Student Union, member of Tassels, and the College Choir. She was also selected as one of 10 “Who’s Who among Students in American Colleges.”

Jackson’s Corduroy Majorette Uniform

Jackson gained early fame at Elizabeth City High School, from which she graduated in 1948. Elizabeth City had an excellent band highlighted by its tall leader, whose flaming mane and Broadway stride inspired the musicians. The band received stacks of invitations for special appearances. The Elizabeth City’s band performed at the Lost Colony in Manteo and the Wilbur Wright Monument for General Doolittle the next week. The band also participated during a parade down Fifth Avenue, played at Madison Square Garden, and even performed in front of Major de Seversky. In 1946, one year after World War II ended, Holiday magazine wrote a three-page spread about the outstanding Elizabeth City High School Band with a full-page cover picture of Sara Page in a double exposure. The title of the article was “When the band parades, spirits are raised.”  

Jackson’s love for her Wake Forest College did not stop at her graduation. Jackson met her future husband, Jack Lewis, who was Captain of the football team and the Right End 60-minute man (he played offense and defense), at Wake Forest. She served two terms on the Wake Forest University Board of Trustees, served on the Alumni Council, and remained active with the Mecklenburg County WFU Alumni Club in Charlotte, NC for many years. After raising three boys, she went to work for Wake Forest Alumnus, Lex Marsh, at his company in Charlotte, NC, Marsh Associates, Inc. She later went on to work at Davidson College’s Development Office for seventeen years while living at Lake Norman. She wrote about working at Davidson, “It’s special because this campus reminds me of my old Wake Forest campus – with administration, professors, their wives, staff and students enjoying each other. The campus is small, pretty and full of trees.”

Sara Page and Jack Lewis

I have never known anyone to love her college and her college years as much as my Mother did. Wake Forest was everything to her. She felt like the people who came from Wake Forest were special. I believe she could have relived those days of being the Chief Majorette in the Old Gold and Black in Wake Forest, in a continuous loop; however, if she did, she wouldn’t have had me, her oldest son, and then my two brothers Paul and Miles. We are glad she took time out from twirling for that.

When my brother Miles went to see our Mother in the New Hanover Regional Hospital the afternoon before the morning she passed away, he mentioned to the nurse some things about Mom. Miles and I had been to see and talk to her just the day before and had only gotten a slight smile on her face. Miles told the nurse, “This lady here was the Chief Majorette at Wake Forest College all 4 years. She still has her baton. It’s a crowbar. A big, ole, heavy thing with a ball on one end. And also her little baton she’d twirl all around and flick in the air. During the summers, she’d do clinics teaching 6-8 girls how to twirl. The college yearbooks, the stuff she was involved in is a paragraph long. Her picture is on every page. She was Miss Demon Deacon.” Miles noticed Mom’s eyes popped wide open. Her face brightened. A slight smile stuck on her face. Miles continued to reminisce and recalled, “Mom’s slight smile never went away. Her eyes stayed wide open. A couple of times I felt she saw me and tried to speak. I held her hand and hugged her several times. She looked good, pleasant, and peaceful.”

Sara Page peacefully passed away the next morning. She loved her Wake Forest College and everything that came with it. This was the passing of a different era, and the passing of a different time, the passing of the baton.

Written by Drew Lewis, ’78 WFU Graduate, with the help of Allen Freedman, Carriage Club fellow resident, Bob Quincy, The Charlotte Observer, Ken Sanford, St. John’s Baptist Church friend, and Miles & Paul Lewis, brothers.