Hewes moves from spectator to star for the unborn

GREENVILLE — In his younger days, Joe Hewes catered to celebrities from New York’s Broadway to Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.

But for the past 20 years, the 79-year-old Seneca resident and Catholic has been speaking out for those far removed from the limelight — the unborn.

Hewes said he was somewhat involved in the right-to-life effort in the late 1970s, a few years after the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that overturned existing state and federal laws outlawing or restricting abortion. He was living on Long Island at the time and working for NBC in New York City.  

A parishioner at Corpus Christi Church in Mineola, N.Y., he was also a member of the Knights of Columbus.  

“I would donate to Priests for Life and things like that, but I was mostly a spectator,” he said, with most of his time devoted to supporting himself and his family.

After graduating from Manhattan College in 1951 with marketing and accounting degrees, Hewes said he instantly became “draft bait” for the Korean War.

“It was very difficult to get a job. Nobody would hire you because they feared you would be drafted,” he recalled.

However, his accounting degree helped him land a job in NBC’s billing department. A short time later he married his wife Frances, and she became pregnant with their first child. At that point the military let him off the hook.

“They told me that because my wife was pregnant, I couldn’t be drafted,” he said.

Hewes worked his way up to studio and theater supervisor at NBC, and finally to production manager on the studio side, or what was then called “below the line.”

“Above the line was the actors, producers, directors, writers — what most people think of in terms of movies and theater,” Hewes said. “Below the line was all of the stuff that supported that.”

Hewes said he had occasional contact with those above the line.

On one occasion, while working on the theater side, Hewes said he had a chance encounter with British actor Lawrence Olivier, who at the time was starring in the television production of “The Moon and Sixpence.”

During a break in shooting, Hewes wandered backstage and heard snoring.

“There was Lawrence Olivier, sleeping on the floor,” he said. “I reminded him that there’s a beautiful dressing room for him upstairs.”

But Olivier told him that he did not want to bother with having to spend hours putting on fresh makeup.

He also tells the story of literally bumping into legendary comedian Bob Hope.

Hewes was checking stage lights in one of the NBC theaters at the same time that Hope was on the stage going over a script for a television show. Neither man saw the other until they  backed into each other, with Hope falling to the stage floor.

After realizing that it was Hope with whom he collided, Hewes apologized profusely while Hope tried to tell him that it was his (Hope’s) fault.

“I was sure I was going to be fired,” Hewes said.

He also spent time with former NBC news correspondent and longtime Nightly News anchor John Chancellor.

Hewes retired from NBC in 1987. Not long after, he and his wife, now deceased, stepped up their work for the unborn. Their commitment grew when they moved south from New York to Oconee County.

The couple bought a retirement home on Lake Keowee and took advantage of every opportunity to learn more about pro-life activities.

“Anytime we saw anything in The Catholic Miscellany about some event involving right-to-life, we tried to see it,” Hewes said.

In 1998, the Grand Knight of the local Knights of Columbus Council in Seneca asked if Hewes would be interested in serving as chairman of the council’s right-to-life committee. He took the offer, asking only that he be allowed to write a monthly column in the council’s newsletter.

“That’s what really drew me into it. I wanted to try and influence people by telling the story that wasn’t being told,” he said.

The committee’s name has evolved over the past few years into the respect for life and family committee.

“That took in more than just the unborn. It takes in end-of-life issues and family issues,” Hewes said.

Until recently, he has been the committee’s sole member, but as he prepares to celebrate his 80th birthday, he has brought on a second, younger person. Hewes hopes the committee will attract young people to right-to-life and family issues.

Toward that end, Hewes worked last year with a parishioner at St. Mary Church in Greenville who formed a right-to-life group at Clemson.

Hewes said he fears that the progress made by the pro-life side over the past eight years will be lost under the new leadership in Washington, but he still sees hope for change.

He noted that each year more young people have attended the March for Life held in Washington each January.

“I’ve noticed slowly but surely over the last 10 years an increase in the number of young people who are taking pro-life causes very seriously. I think that is something we need to encourage,” he said.

In addition to his column in the Knight’s newsletter, Hewes said he occasionally gives talks on life and family issues.

A member of St. Paul the Apostle Mission in Seneca, he serves as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and is active in other parish ministries.

He has no immediate plans to stop working on behalf of the unborn, even though he is now in his second battle with cancer.

“I’ll keep doing this until it’s time for me to go,” he said.