Meridian Star

August 26, 2012

To me, Dad was a remarkable man

By Michael Stewart / Executive Editor
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — My dad used to say he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.

It's true, he couldn't, but that wouldn't stop him from bursting out in song, mangling octaves with a mischievous smile on his face.

I chuckle every time I recall his rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," one of the songs he most frequently butchered.  

But that was just Dad; he did everything with gusto.

Last weekend, I drove to Phenix City, Ala., to attend Dad's funeral. Robert M. Stewart died at the age of 90 of complications from a bad case of pneumonia.

I am biased, of course, but to my mind he was a remarkable man.

An electrician by trade, Dad spent much of his career wiring in heavy machinery at manufacturing plants — primarily textile — across the Southeast, before settling in as chief electrician at Southern Phenix Textiles, where he retired after 16 years.

He spent some time at a plant in Laurel, Miss., during the late 1960s, but left during strikes that turned ugly, recalling later that the town at that time "was no place for a man with children in tow."

When he wasn't working Dad liked to fish, garden and watch SEC football when Alabama played.

He served in the Aleutian Islands in World War II, before being deployed to Europe where an explosion from a German bomb burst both of his eardrums.

He couldn't hear out of one ear at all and had to use a hearing aid the rest of his life in what he called his "good ear."

Around the age of 70 he developed macular degeneration, an eye disease that destroyed his eyesight to the point that he could only see blurred images.

About that time the hearing in his good ear began to fail as well, so that you would have to repeat things often. Sometimes he could make out what you were trying to tell him; many times he could not.

Legally blind and practically deaf, he didn't let it slow him down. He still fished at a neighbor's pond, huddled around the TV during football games and tended his garden in the summer months.

In fact, he was in remarkable shape well into his 80s, walking every day and staying busy with the various projects he always had going on.

At the age of 86, Dad was digging a new sewage drainage ditch — 6 feet deep — when he fell and dislocated his shoulder and knee, requiring surgery on both. He developed a staph infection in his knee following the surgery and never walked again.

Sometimes he would sit at the dining room table in his wheelchair when company came, but for the most part he was confined to a hospital bed set up in the living room, under constant care by my stepmother, who never left his side.

He never complained. In fact, he was usually upbeat and delighted in sharing jokes or funny stories with visitors, whether he could hear them or not.

I don't know how many people approached me at the funeral and said Dad always made them feel like they were special and important to him. Dad meant it.

He cared about people.

The older I get the more I realize just how remarkable he was. Not once in my 50 years did I ever hear him utter a single curse word; make fun of someone else or raise his voice at anyone in anger.

He treated everyone with dignity and respect, believed in a honest day's work and that a man was only as good as his word. He practiced fair play in all things.

He once told me he never drank alcohol — not once. I believe him. I've never known him to lie.

And most importantly to him, he was a man of deep faith in God.

He wasn't perfect, of course, but to me he was remarkable. I am biased of course; he was my dad.

The Meridian Star Executive Editor Michael Stewart can be reached at