Ask friends what they miss most about Sheila Stewart and they will likely say her warm friendship and zest for life.

There was also the way she presented people, which friends will remember forever.

“Sheila was a master connector of people,” said Varick Baiyina, 43, a friend who worked with Stewart at Radio One. “She was very good at making everyone that she encountered feel special. She would kind of blow you up bigger than you really were. She presented you like you were the person to meet. She was awesome at that. People would be so impressed with that. It was like, ‘Whoa!’

That was her gift, connecting people—putting people in the right place with the right people.”

Stewart, the community affairs and news director for Radio One stations in the D.C. area, died Oct. 24 of injuries she suffered in a car accident in Atlanta. She was buried in Charlotte, NC.

Friends and loved ones from the Washington, D.C.-area will have the opportunity to say their goodbyes to Stewart at a memorial service scheduled for Dec. 6 from noon to 4 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden Ministry Center, 3600 Brightseat Road in Landover.

Walter Kirkland, who met Stewart six years ago, said he was among hundreds of Stewart’s local friends who traveled to Charlotte for her funeral.

“There were tears and smiles,” said Kirkland. “People just can’t quite get over that she is gone. There were great accolades spoken on her behalf, not only from her radio family in D.C., but also others. The pastor took us to a whole new level in terms of appreciating her life when he talked about her accomplishments. She accomplished much more than most people who live much longer.”

Renee Starlynn Allen said she last talked to Stewart a few days before she died.

Stewart, who had relocated to Atlanta from the District a few weeks before, had planned to fly back later the day of the car accident. She planned to emcee an event for Tom Joyner on Oct. 25. The next day, she was expected to participate in the AIDS Walk D.C. event downtown. Friend and co-worker Michelle Vessels said Stewart had recruited a team to participate in the walk, as she had for several years.

Allen, whose son Chase, 12, used to help her babysit Stewart’s young son, Jonathan, said she had been looking forward to sitting down with her friend for a long visit. Instead, she was notified in a phone call that Stewart had been killed.
Allen sang a song she wrote called “Lord Help Me,” at Stewart’s funeral in Charlotte and will sing it again at the memorial service.

Friends held the local memorial service, she said, because there are so many people in the D.C. area who needed an opportunity to say goodbye to Stewart.

“They waited until her family had grieved, so they could come and participate,” Allen said. “They know Sheila was really loved here and they wanted to do something to allow people to come together in one place.”

Allen said she hopes Jonathan will grow up knowing about his mother.

“She loved that little boy so much,” Allen said. “She was so protective and loving with him. My biggest sadness is that he won’t have the mother who loved him so much, the void he is going to feel.”

Alex McCamey, who met Stewart 15 years ago and worked with her for seven years, said she will always be remembered for her relationships.

“She had a passion for what she was doing,”McCamey said, “delivering the news and connecting people. She was really big on connecting the dots, in her friendships, but also in terms of making sure that the nonprofit organizations she dealt with met their target and sharing their information in terms of getting the word out to the community. From health, to politics, to growing a business, she was in the forefront making things happen.”

For more information about the memorial service, contact Shawn Hay at 301-641-0814 or go to Media need to be credentialed for the event by sending name, cell phone number, email address and company name to the address above. A memorial fund has been set up for her son, Jonathan H. Russell. Donations may be made to Bank of America account # 3344941771.


Avis Thomas-Lester

AFRO Executive Editor