While I sat at my computer today brainstorming an innovative new restaurant concept, I received one of the most heartbreaking texts from a fellow WVU alumni, Chris Schielzo. It simply read, “Bill Stewart died :(” With those 3 words, my heart sank as tears welled into my eyes and began to spring down my face. My first thought was of his young son; his father leaving him so early would no doubt be one of the hardest things he will ever experience. Then, memories began to pour like a floodgate had been opened. When Rich Rodriguez left WVU nation, the state and his players in a whirl-wind to coach a new team, Bill Stewart was there to pick up everyone’s faith and restore the West Virginia pride. He instilled a sense of pride for the state that I had never known before. He was the epitome of a truly proud West Virginian. After winning the Fiesta Bowl, he came back to lead the state, school and team with the biggest heart West Virginia University had ever seen…
No matter what happened on or off the football field, Bill Stewart ALWAYS stayed positive. His uplifting words, faith and wisdom allowed him to be one of the best things that ever happened to the West Virginia University football team. I always defended Coach Stewart when our state, fans and college began to turn on Bill for not winning games; I will always defend him because it’s not/wasn’t about winning. Not to me. Yes, college football is a sport – a very lucrative sport at that. However, college sports isn’t supposed to be a job – it’s a learning experience. As a coach, you hold the job of being not only an ‘on-the-field’ coach, but also an ‘off-the-field’ coach to the players that are on your team. Bill Stewart played that role very well. He was the best thing that ever happened to the men on the football team. I remember when Jock got a DUI and was very down-and-out about being ostracized from the facility, team and football family, Bill stood beside him. He always had the utmost respect for Bill because he had been there for him and offered him wisdom, faith and hope. It always touched my heart to hear the amazing things Bill would say to his players; he was like a dad….a dad that many of them never had. I met him once when I worked at The Montmartre restaurant in The Hotel Morgan. He was very kind, humble, gracious, and made sure to say hello to everyone at the restaurant. It was like my grandfather was reincarnated right there. Today, I feel like I lost my grandfather, again. You will be missed, Bill.
A mantra I hold dear to my heart describes Bill Stewart’s character to the ‘T': “How many people you bless is how you measure success.” He blessed many people and will live forever in the hearts of those he blessed. May his soul rest easy in heaven among the hills. Blessings and prayers go to his family, son and the people that had the opportunity to meet the wonderfully sweet man.
I can hear him singing the sweet music as he makes his way to a well-deserved place in Heaven:
“Country Roads Take Me Home To The Place I Belong…………………West Virginia Mountain Mama, Take Me Home Country Roads”