Politician, farmer, community supporter dies

A former Republican county commissioner and American patriot died Friday.
David Stewart, 74, of Sherrills Ford, died at Palliative CareCenter and Hospice after an illness.

"I am saddened to hear of David's passing," said Robert E. Hibbitts, of Hickory, former county commission chairman. "Our heartfelt sympathies are sent to his family and many friends."

Hibbitts served with Stewart on the Catawba County Board of Commissioners for Stewart's 16 years on the board. For 10 of those years, Stewart was vice chairman while Hibbitts was board chairman.

"He was an American patriot," Hibbitts said. "He loved his country and his community. He served it well."

Stewart, who was born Dec. 24, 1935, to Alvin and Gladys Stewart in Catawba County, was elected as a county commissioner in 1982 and retired Dec. 7, 1998.

"We worked close on a lot of issues," Hibbitts said, "and very seldom did we disagree. David was a steady force on the board. He had a lot of common sense and was just easy going."

Stewart's list of accomplishments and involvements as a county commissioner and Catawba County resident are numerous. Such activities include backing the Education Compact of 1988 with the county's three school systems to provide funding to encourage increased test scores; trustee on the board for the Catawba Memorial Hospital — now Catawba Valley Medical Center; instrumental in the establishment of a Lake Norman Marine Patrol section of the Catawba County Sheriff's Office in 1994; representative on the jail study committee that led to the creation of the Burke-Catawba Regional Jail Partnership with Burke County; and helped the county obtain authority in 1984 to enact a Junk Vehicle Ordinance, among many contributions.

In 1986-87, he served on the North Carolina Mental Health Study Commission. He was known to make twice-weekly trips to Raleigh in an 18-month period to discuss funding issues in mental health. Mental health eventually moved to a per capita basis, which helps many state counties obtain funding. From his efforts with mental health funding, he was named North Carolina County Commissioner of the Year.

Aside from his governmental efforts, Stewart was a well-known farmer in Catawba County. He created Promise View Farm, which is now managed by his son and grandson, Stanly and Adam, respectively.

"He was an advocate for preserving agricultural heritage, the farming community and natural resources," Hibbitts said. "David was a champion for those issues."

Hibbitts, as well as Sherry Butler, said Stewart's business-minded attitude helped lead to beneficial economic deals in the county.

"David served on the capital campaign to help raise money to pay for OPOP (Old Post Office Playhouse)," said Butler, The Green Room Community Theatre executive director. "David was instrumental in talking to local officials in getting support. He said (OPOP) was a great opportunity for economic development for this part of the county and a wonderful asset to Newton."

Even when Stewart became ill, Butler said she knew he was still doing all he could to help move OPOP along.

"When he commits to something, he sees it through no matter what," Butler said. "It was an honor and a privilege to work with David. He had great faith and showed it in everything he did."

Every person who knew Stewart committed on his Christian faith and active involvement in church.

"God, family and his country ... he was that kind of person," said county commissioner Barbara Beatty. "He was always a faith-based person. He had one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard. As a child, I grew up in church with him. (Later years in church), his wife was an organist, and he would sing."

Stewart grew up in the Balls Creek Community and was a charter member of the Balls Creek Lions Club. He was a graduate of the now-closed Balls Creek High School. He started work at Bunch-Kelly Corporation, a textile manufacturer, in 1956. Later, the corporation became Hanes Industries and Stewart worked hard and became company president before Hanes merged with Leggett and Platt Inc.

"He was a good person and very community oriented," said Ray Von Caldwell, cousin and friend of Stewart's. "He was a friendly, compassionate and very hard-working individual. He was a good conversationalist and was interested in what people had to say."

For his retirement in December 1998 from the board of commissioners, he was presented a Distinguished Public Service Award. Also, the main meeting room at the Agricultural Resource Center was named in his honor, and the base of the flag pole at Balls Creek Elementary School was engraved with his name. This year, Stewart was also inducted into the first class Hall of Fame for the Catawba County Republican Party.

"He had a way of performing his duty in a very constructive matter," said former county commissioner Stine Isenhower. "He had a great sense of humor, which was his trademark. His efforts will be an asset to our county for years to come."

At Stewart's retirement in 1998, he commented on his leadership philosophy: "I try to bring enthusiam to any task which is identified and not worry about who gets the credit for the achievement. I also think it's important to accept the responsibility for failure and be available to try again."

Hibbitts said Stewart will be remembered for his leadership.

"He fought the good fight and left a legacy that will last a long time," Hibbitts said.

Stewart is survived by his wife, Sybil, of more than 50 years of marriage. The couple has three children.

Funeral arrangements were not announced by press time Friday. Burke Mortuary in Maiden is serving the Stewart family.