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Elliot Schewel

December 15, 2019

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Elliot Schewel, devoted husband and father, and dedicated public servant, died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, December 15, 2019.

Mr. Schewel was a true son of Lynchburg. He was born in Lynchburg and, except during college and World War II, he lived in Lynchburg his entire 95 years.   He loved the City of Lynchburg and he served it faithfully and well.   He was known and admired for his quiet competency, his keen judgment, his moral leadership, and the unfailing courtesy and decency with which he treated everyone he met.

Mr. Schewel was born on June 20, 1924, the son of Abraham and Anna Schewel. His father, Abe, was an immigrant from Russia.  He had two older siblings, Francis and Stan, who predeceased him.  He was a member of Agudath Sholom Synagogue his entire life.

Mr. Schewel attended E.C. Glass High School and, in 1941, began college at Washington & Lee University.   He left college to enlist in the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He served in the Army Air Corps until the war ended in 1945, creating aerial maps from his underground post.

His life changed when he met Rosel Hoffberger in Baltimore soon after returning from the Army.   They continued to date when he returned to W&L to finish college.  When he proposed to her at a restaurant, he arranged to have the waiter put the engagement ring in Rosel’s champagne glass.  They were married on June 12, 1949, and enjoyed an extraordinary and mutually supportive 68 year romance.  His beloved Rosel died two years ago.

The Schewels moved into a small house in Lynchburg shortly after their marriage. Over the next few years, they started a family and developed friendships that enriched and sustained their lives.   In particular, they grew abiding friendships with a group of doctors who had moved to Lynchburg after service in World War II and, like Elliot, had married women from “the north.” This lovely group of men and women built summer cottages near each other at Smith Mountain Lake, signaled to each other during warm summer nights at the lake by blowing loud blasts on conch shell horns, and travelled the world together.  And the intertwined civic engagement of this close-knit group of friends impacted the cultural, social and political life of Lynchburg for decades.

Mr. Schewel worked in the family furniture business, Schewel Furniture Company for more than 50 years. He and his cousin Bert ran the business together for many years, trading titles and responsibilities from year to year.   Under their leadership, the business grew and prospered.

Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Schewel entered local politics in 1965 when he won election to City Council. There he championed fair housing, support for the Lynchburg Community Action Program and funding for public education.  At the time, many local institutions, including the Jones Memorial Library, remained segregated.  Together with his friend Dr. Cully Lippard, his wife Rosel and others, he helped found Friends of the Lynchburg Public Library which led to the creation of the Lynchburg Public Library in 1966, to serve all people in Lynchburg.

He ran for, and won election to, the Virginia State Senate in 1975, where he served until 1995. His senatorial district included the City of Lynchburg and Bedford and Amherst Counties.  He played a key role in the General Assembly’s adoption of the Commonwealth’s first conflict of interest legislation and, because of his principled approach to ethics issues, was often referred to as the “Conscience of the Senate.”  He was a steadfast supporter of public education, fiscal responsibility, and the rights of women, including his vote for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.  Under the influence of Rosel, he increasingly saw the positive role that government could play in improving the lives of children and reducing long-standing inequities that plagued society.

Mr. Schewel served on boards too numerous to name. A few of them include the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Centra Foundation, Lynchburg College, Randolph Macon Woman’s College, the United Negro College Fund, the Lynchburg Jewish Community Council and the Lynchburg Covenant Fellowship. In honor of his friend, Bev Cosby, leader of Lynchburg Covenant Fellowship, Mr. Schewel commissioned the mural “Helping Hands” that adorns a building on Ninth Street.

He received many awards, including an honorary Doctor of Letters from Lynchburg College. His wife and two of his three children had obtained hard-earned doctorates from their respective colleges and universities.  In his acceptance speech upon receipt of his honorary degree, Mr. Schewel said, “My wife and children spent years earning their doctorates.  I got this degree just for showing up here today.  So I ask you, who is the smartest guy in this family?”  He was a talented artist and perceptive art collector, who painted with the Lynchburg Art Club for many years.

Elliot Schewel was a self-effacing man who felt compelled to serve the people of his City and the wider world. In numerous political campaigns, his campaign motto was always “Straight Talk, Hard Work.”   He embodied that motto, but, in his daily life, added both a sweetness and gentlemanliness that endeared him to so many.

In his last years, he was sustained by his friendship with “the Poets,” by the caring staff at Westminster Canterbury, and by his caregiver and friend, Barbara Richerson.

He is survived by his children, Steve (Lao), Susan, and Michael (Priscilla), by his grandchildren Laura, Abraham (Lauren Lee), Elias, Benjamin (Keri) and Solomon, and by his great grandson, Elliot. He is also survived by his sister-in-law, Lois Feinblatt and by numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.  His greatest joy was a household full of children, grandchildren and family.

Funeral services for Mr. Schewel will be held at 11:00 am on Thursday, December 19, at Agudath Sholom Synagogue, 2055 Langhorne Rd.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to one of the following organizations: Beacon of Hope, P.O. Box 1261, Lynchburg, Va. 24505; Agudath Sholom Congregation, 2055 Langhorne Rd., Lynchburg, Va., 24501; or Rosel Schewel Fund, Virginia Humanities, 145 Ednam Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22903-4629.

Tharp Funeral Home & Crematory, Lynchburg, is assisting the family.

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