Tanner Lewis’ friends – stunned by his unexpected death on Sunday – gave him a memorial tribute the following day in an unusual and moving way – a running game of Monopoly in the Midland Valley High School Library.
The 17-year-old senior and gifted honor student loved the game. He and his buddy, Chris Taylor, once played eight to 10 hours on a weekend when they were younger, using an ancient board and paper money handed down for decades in the Lewis family.
At times on Monday, so many students would come by the library that they had to team up with one of the Monopoly tokens. Chris picked out the sword and also chose Tanner’s favorite star token – and played the game with both.
A son of David and Donna Lewis, Tanner, 17, died after a brief illness, leaving faculty members and students alike with a shared loss. He was a phenomenal student and a great person, said guidance director Sharon Worley.
Tanner served on the academic team and Beta Club, earned his Eagle Scout award last summer and was so ecstatic just recently. He had become the first Midland Valley student to be accepted to Duke University. His classmates warmly shared his joy.
“He was a special kid and now we’re hearing more things that were more subtle,” said counselor Allison Crow. “It’s how he helped other students, taking them under his wing. Through his Eagle Scout experience, he also mentored the younger scouts here at school.”
Chris and two other close friends of Tanner’s – J.A. Grice and Cameron Driver – talked about Tanner in a conference room on Monday. On a table nearby was a massive poster – full of messages of love and sadness from students – along with a photo of Tanner in a new Duke sweatshirt and a poem written by Cameron.
All four had firm plans after high school. J.A. plans to become a pastor, Cameron is going into marketing and Chris looks forward to a career in medicine.
“Everybody pushed Tanner that he should be a politician,” Chris said. “He was so much fun, definitely a character.”
In larger letters in the center of the poster was a headline: “Tanner Conquers the World.” He always said that, Chris and the others agreed. With tongue clearly in cheek, Tanner would come up with outrageous solutions to world problems. If he became president, he told a friend he would give her China.
He talked about becoming the governor and maybe the president, too. But that came from his fascination with history. He had strong conservative values, enjoyed debates and never budged from the beliefs that mattered to him.
Tanner had found mistakes in textbooks and in AP calculus, would find some unnecessarily long solution to a problem, just so he could do it his way, his friends said. When Tanner took off on a scouting weekend once, he took his biology and calculus books with him.
Tanner had a great sense of humor, said Worley, and also a good heart. He would bring his friends chocolate on holidays, and would make a Christmas list for his friends, and then give every one of them the gift on that list.
He was a big Carolina fan, and J.A. said they gave each other a lot of grief, because J.A. roots for Clemson. After he was accepted into Duke, “Tanner said he would have to start watching basketball there,” J.A. said. And would have happily worn that new sweatshirt to the games, too.
Cameron and Tanner met in the second grade at Jefferson Elementary School and were inseparable during their childhoods, more like brothers than friends.
“We were all blinded by how bright his future was,” said Cameron. “He was so smart and if we live by Tanner’s example, maybe we can make the world better like he did.”
In his poem, Cameron wrote how as kids one day, they were pretending to be explorers. They had found a big ol’ bucket full of plastic lizards and snakes and tossed them out a second-story window. The boys ran outside and somehow couldn’t find the plastic lizards and snakes anywhere – as if they had flown away or had walked away on the ground.
Several years passed and, Cameron wrote on Monday how he had heard something tragic, that the friend he had considered his brother had died. “And he was flying away, just like the lizards had.”
Someday he will see Tanner again, Cameron said, and they will dress up as explorers once more.