Portrait of a hero-Friends remember Stewart

Photos courtesy of the Stewart family
Friends and family remember Dickie Stewart as a loving man who had a wonderful sense of humor and was [cointent_lockedcontent]always willing to lend a helping hand. Pictured with Stewart at a Pickens High School football game are, from left, Stewart’s daughters Erin, Kerry and Alanna and his wife of 44 years, Vickie.

By Rocky Nimmons

PICKENS — What is a hero?

For many of us, the word conjures up visions of a caped superman who saves the world. For others, it is a serviceman who fights for our freedom. Others see heroes as police, fire or EMS workers who save and protect us.

One of the greatest joys in Dickie Stewart’s life was serving as Santa Claus for not only his own grandchildren, but the children at his home church, Secona Baptist Church. His long white beard wasn’t his strongest Santa trait, however. “It was the twinkle in his eyes,” longtime friend Ann Garren said.

One of the greatest joys in Dickie Stewart’s life was serving as Santa Claus for not only his own grandchildren, but the children at his home church, Secona Baptist Church. His long white beard wasn’t his strongest Santa trait, however. “It was the twinkle in his eyes,” longtime friend Ann Garren said.

All of these fit the description, but many in Pickens County have a new image of a hero — one with a long white beard and an undying spirit that will live for generations to come.

Two weeks ago, the late Dickie Stewart showed his heroic spirit when he went to the aid of a neighbor in need. With no concern for his personal safety or well-being, Stewart went to check on his neighbor, former Pickens football coach Bill Isaacs, who lay in the grass near his home along North Homestead Road.

In a 911 call he made on the morning of the incident and released by the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, Stewart can be heard going without concern to check on his friend, never showing fear as he did. Moments later, Stewart was shot and killed, just as Isaacs had been moments earlier.

According to all who knew him, nothing would have kept Stewart from lending a hand. That was just the kind of man he was.

But just who was Dickie Stewart?

He was a husband and father of three daughters. A man who loved to grow his beard long to see the excitement in the eyes of children at his home church, Secona Baptist, each holiday season while standing in line to speak to “Santa Claus.” He was a man of God. He was so many things to so many people in the Pickens community. Hero, it seems, was just one of many roles Stewart portrayed in life.

In his own words in a post on Facebook, Stewart wrote a list of 25 things that best described the man he was.

“I like to read very much,” he wrote, “l hate being bothered with trivial information such as, ‘The house is falling down,’ while reading.”

That was Stewart. He simply had a unique way of expressing himself.

According to longtime friend and fellow Secona member Marion Lawson, the principal of Pickens High School, Stewart often read multiple books at a time and several in one day.

“He loved classics, books on dieting, natural remedies, medical books, mysteries, old Western novels, science fiction, thrillers and fantasy books,” Lawson said. “For example, he bought each of the Harry Potter series as it was published in hardcover. Then, at the end of the series, he bought the entire British version set so he could compare the vocabulary.

“Dickie posted his reading lists on his Facebook page and welcomed anyone who might try to equal his reading. In the past couple of years, he read, shared, and encouraged others to adopt his vegetarian diet. He was sold on the concept and would spend lots of time and money on books for friends as he sought out converts. He was very proud that the dietary changes he made led to a complete reduction of all medications and a healthier outlook on life.”

Another longtime friend and fellow choir member at the church, Ann Garren, also confirmed Stewart’s love of reading,

“Dickie was probably one of the most unique people I’ve known in my 60 years,” she said. “He was very well-read. He had a passion for reading, for learning and expanding his mind.

“If you talked to Dickie about a subject he was not very familiar with, he would research that subject, and the next time he saw you he would talk about it. He never quit learning. His mind was a sponge, soaking up all the information he could. He could always find ‘common ground’ in a conversation.”

But his love of reading did not even compare to his love of God, and the love he shared with his family.

“I’m happy to have married my high school sweetheart almost 40 years ago, but if it doesn’t work out, I’m not going to bother with marriage again,” Stewart wrote lightheartedly in his Facebook post. “I love my children, their spouses and my grandchildren, even though they may wonder about it at times.”

Humor was a major part of who he was. He loved to make people smile with his quips.

Garren said she knew Stewart for about 45 years, as his wife, Vickie, had grown up at Secona and been friends with Garren since they were both children.

“She married Dickie while he was in the Navy, and when he got out of the Navy and they came back to Pickens, he joined Secona,” Garren said. “The love Dickie and Vickie had for each other was always apparent. They fell in love when they were young and married young. There was never, ever any question about the love they had for each other. Theirs was a young love that never faded.”

Lawson echoed the love Stewart had for his family.

“Dickie loved his precious wife, Vickie,” he said. “They were truly a team and an inspiration to many.

“They worked together with the youth and children at church and at home. Dickie loved his girls, Erin, Kerry and Alanna. He loved his sons-in-law and his grandchildren.

According to Lawson, “Grumpy,” as Stewart’s grandchildren called him, spoke of his family often and was always ready to share a story or funny episode in their lives.

“He always smiled as he talked about them and was filled with joy with each one who made a profession of faith in Jesus,” Lawson said. “For years, Dickie and Vickie worked with the youth at church, chaperoning activities and leading in small-group Bible studies.

“You could often find him with as many of his children and grandchildren as he could gather at football games — of course he was easy to pick out with his white hair, long beard and top hat.”

The beard was a must for Stewart, as he loved to play the Santa every Christmas.

“Before Dickie had bypass surgery, he was Santa Claus,” Lawson said. “He grew into the role. He had the suit and real Santa lace-up boots and leather gloves. He delighted children and adults at Secona and in the community as the jolly old elf.”

Lawson said Stewart could be seen around town and at the bank spreading Christmas cheer. He was Santa even in the ‘off-season,’ often wearing red sweaters, green vests or his trademark Stewart plaid tartan vest or shirt.

“I remember when he first started his ponytail, he was quick to explain that his was not a typical ponytail, but rather an example of a colonial style of hair called ‘clubbing.’ Vintage Dickie Stewart,” Lawson said.

Garren said Stewart was the “ideal” Santa Claus when he let his white beard and hair grow out, but those attributes weren’t his strongest Santa traits.

“It was the twinkle in his eye. It was his quiet, kind voice,” she said. “He took joy in playing the part of Santa — a role he played for other children and even his own family members.

“A few years ago, when Dickie was in the hospital awaiting open-heart surgery, a child saw him and become concerned that Santa was sick and in the hospital. Dickie often told the story, and he did so with a little chuckle. I guess he delighted in how much he did look like Santa.”

Faith, however, and his love of Jesus Christ were the driving force in the person Stewart was, according to his loved ones.

“Dickie believed in his heart that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and he confessed the same with his mouth, so according to Romans 10:9, he was saved,” Lawson said.

Dickie was a charter member of the Bible Fellowship Sunday School class at Secona Baptist Church, having joined the class to help Lawson, who was the first teacher when the class was brand-new.

“The aim of the class was to get folks into Sunday School who were not already involved,” Lawson said. “He came to class with several versions of the Bible ready on his Kindle so he could give subtle meanings of words or just share scripture from a different version. He was always ready with a ‘real-world’ application of scripture that we could use in everyday life. He would often toss out an idea or ask a question to get a discussion started or make a daily life application with the scripture of the day.

“Dickie believed in the power of prayer. At the end of our choir practice each week, we would have prayer time. Dickie always mentioned family, friends and acquaintances that he wanted us to pray for their needs. A few months ago, when Coach Isaacs was in the hospital so sick, Dickie mentioned him every time we gathered. He would always say ‘please pray for my neighbor and my friend, Bill Isaacs.’

“Dickie believed that as bad as the coach was, prayer could change the situation, and it did. When Coach got better, Dickie gave praise and thanks to the Lord for what he had done for his neighbor and his friend.

Garren said Stewart’s lasting legacy was his love: “Dickie loved His Lord. Dickie loved his wife, Vickie, his daughters, Kerry, Alanna, Erin, and his sons-in-laws. Dickie loved his grand children. Dickie loved his church. Dickie loved his church family. He loved singing in our church choir.

“On the day before he passed away, he sang with the choir ‘Oh for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.’ He sang the praises to his Lord from the choir loft. Within less than 24 hours. Dickie sang those same praises standing in the Heavenly choir, in the presence of The Lord he loved so much.”

In this world, we meet and know many people, but for all who knew and loved Dickie Stewart, there will always be the memories of a gentle, loving man who led life on his terms.

“I could have done a lot of things in my life differently, but l didn’t,” Stewart wrote on Facebook. “I can’t bother with regret. It won’t change a thing. If I die before anyone even has time to read this, eternity may not be long enough for me to know how to adequately thank my God for his goodness and grace to me.”