Stewart family coping since father's death

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By Jesef Williams

Pamela Stewart says she and her family are coping well following her father's death a few weeks ago.

Willie Stewart, who founded Stewart Funeral Home in Heath Springs more than 30 years ago, died Aug. 29. He was 67.

If you didn't get a chance to meet Willie Stewart, his daughters will tell you he was a hard-working man who wanted the best for everyone. Pamela Stewart said those qualities were evident in his work as a funeral home director and through all other aspects of his daily life.

"He was a good provider," she said. "He always wanted the best for us."

Willie Stewart, who was born and raised in Lancaster County, become exposed to the funeral service business at an early age.

One of his teachers, who worked at Funderburk Funeral Home in Lancaster, allowed him to help there part time. Years later, he moved to New York City to attend a funeral service institute.

After graduating, he moved back to Lancaster with plans of starting his own business.

Willie Stewart's other daughter, Shelia Washington, said her father's personality allowed him to do well as a funeral home director.

"He was a kind-hearted person, an advocate for the community who helped a lot of people," she said.

Washington remembers her father working hard all of the time. Some weeks, he'd work every day.

Serving as a notary public and operating an electronics repair shop on the side kept him tied up. Regardless of his schedule, he made sure his wife and children had what they needed, Washington said.

"He worked all the time," she said. "He made sure everybody knew the value of education and hard work."

Pamela Stewart, who has operated Stewart Funeral Home since her father became ill in 2006, said her father was also a jokester. He had a lighter side that strengthened his relations with families he serviced and others in the public.

After shadowing her father, Pamela Stewart was inspired to work full time at the funeral home. She remembers seeing the satisfaction he got from his work.

"Just watching the relationship he established with families – he was able to help people," Pamela Stewart said.

Willie Stewart's widow, Ethel, said she has been doing OK since his death. Like her daughters, she's often reminded of the good times and all the positive qualities her husband embodied.

Her spiritual leanings have also helped her cope.

"At night, it's real quiet here," Ethel Stewart said from the home she and her husband moved into in the early 1970s. "By being a Christian, you have that relationship with the Lord, and he takes care of you."

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1152