On a crisp, sunny Saturday, April 7, 1951, Dewey H. Handy and Lurenza Handy of Hazlehurst, Mississippi, were thrilled to welcome a male child in their home who would be named Dewey Alonzo Handy. He grew up on ancestral land, where he was reared with a village of support, including his Uncle Alonzo and Aunt TJ Handy.
Dewey was baptized at Gallatin United Methodist Church in Hazlehurst, where he remained a faithful member from childhood until his college years. After moving years later to Jackson, Mississippi, he became a devoted member of Central United Methodist Church. As an active member, Dewey sang in the church choir, served with the United Methodist Men, taught Sunday School, was a Boy Scout leader, and served on several committees.
His early years were spent attending Parish School, where he and his siblings rode the bus to school every day. From an early age, he loved to solve jigsaw puzzles and tinker with things using his hands. A person who genuinely loved nature, Dewey always wanted to be surrounded by water. He and his Aunt LZ would go fishing frequently on the family property, and he went on to become an excellent swimmer and certified lifeguard.
As a child, Dewey enjoyed hanging out with his older brother James and being mischievous to his younger sisters, whom he would annoy by rolling up his eyelids and chasing them. Even though he pestered his siblings as children, they maintained an immeasurable love for each other throughout adulthood.
A 1969 graduate of Parish High School, Dewey enrolled at Jackson State College as a music major and played the trumpet for the Jackson State band. After a few weeks of college, Dewey realized music failed to provide the challenge he desired. He decided to pursue his love for exploring how physical objects operate and shifted his major to Physics. Being a whiz in math and science, Dewey excelled in his physics courses. One instructor even allowed Dewey to teach his classes!
During Dewey’s time at Jackson State, he met the love of his life, Martha Anderson, Miss Jackson State College. In need of an escort for the JROTC ball, Dewey recalls “Martha asked me for the date,” which Martha admits is accurate. The pair dated for two years and then married on September 7, 1974. Although they had no children of their own, Dewey mentored many youths over the years. He loved the children at his church dearly and, at one point, adopted Mrs. Sias’s class at Barr Elementary School. He could always be found guiding children toward the path leading to God.
After graduating from Jackson State with a Bachelor of Science in Physics in 1973, Dewey earned a Master of Science in Chemistry the next year. However, an encounter with Dr. David White, the only African-American optometrist in the state of Mississippi during that time, inspired him to choose a different career path and enroll at the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s School of Optometry. During his second year of optometry school, Dewey was awarded the “Most Outstanding Minority Student” in the institution by the National Optometric Association. He would later receive his Doctor of Optometry in 1979.
After a few years of experience, Dewey opened his private practice in 1984. Being such a compassionate person with his patients, he ensured his staff also treated patients with the same level of empathy. At every staff meeting, the team would read “a creed” that reinforced Dewey’s vision and values of kindness. After 38 years, he sold his practice in 2022. As an optometrist, Dewey received many awards, including the Whitney Young, Jr. Service Award (2007), Optometrist of the Year (2003), National Optometric Association Humanitarian Award (2002) from Mississippi Minority Enterprise Development, and the Silver Boy Scouts of America Award (2001). Dewey became the first African-American optometrist to serve on the Board of Examiners. He lived a remarkable professional life that touched the lives of many, and his zest for life was infectious to all who knew him.
On October 20, 2023, Dewey passed away with his brother-in-law “Butch” by his side. He is preceded in death by his father, Dewey H. Handy; mother, Lurenza Handy; brother, James E. Handy; and sister, Shirley Butler. His memory will forever remain in the hearts of his devoted wife of 49 years, Martha; his sisters, Carrie B. Handy Daniels of Atlanta, Georgia, Thelma Byrd of Jackson, Mississippi, and Willie Kelly (David) of Vicksburg, Mississippi; mother-in-law, Laura Anderson; brother-in-law, Coolidge C. “Butch” Anderson, Jr. (Tonya); and sister-in-law, Gloria Anderson, all of Jackson, Mississippi. Dewey is loved by a host of nieces, nephews, godchildren, cousins, and friends.
Dewey’s wish is that we rejoice in the remembrance of the times he shared with us. His impact on the lives he touched is immeasurable, and his spirit will continue to inspire us all.
Collins Funeral Home handled arrangements.