by Avis Thomas-Lester
Special to NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
Details of the incident had not been released by afternoon, but she apparently was involved in the crash on her way to work. Her beloved son, Jonathan, was not with her when the accident occurred.
Stewart worked in the D.C. area for more than 20 years. She had recently relocated to Atlanta and was living with her sister.
Since moving to Atlanta, Stewart had continued her radio announcing responsibilities in D.C. while she looked for work there, broadcasting remotely from Atlanta. Co-workers had grown concerned when she had failed to make it to the station to do her broadcast.
Radio One employees in the corporate office in Silver Spring, just north of D.C., were notified of her death when they were called into a meeting about 10 a.m.
“There were a lot of tears,” said Michelle Vessels, senior integrated marketing executive for Radio One and a friend of Stewart’s. “Everybody just loved Sheila.”
Friends said they had been looking forward to seeing Stewart this weekend. She was scheduled to fly into town later on Oct. 24 to participate in two events she had supported for several years.
On Oct. 25, she was scheduled to broadcast live from nationally-syndicated air personality and philanthropist Tom Joyner’s Take a Loved One to the Doctor event at Laurel Regional Hospital. The next day, she was expected to participate in the AIDS Walk D.C. event downtown.
Vessels said Stewart had recruited a team to participate in the walk, as she had for several years.
“She had a lot planned this weekend,” Vessels said.
Friends remembered Stewart as a hard-working professional and kind woman who was at the top of her game on the job and always willing to lend a hand to help or a shoulder to cry on.
No matter what she was doing, she always had a minute to chat, call to say “Happy Birthday” or congratulate a loved one on something special that had happened in their lives.
Co-workers took to the airwaves to pay tribute to her. Others held vigils via Facebook, Twitter, texts and emails, expressing sorrow at the loss of such a vital and loved person.
“She was truly Ms. Community in every respect,” said AFRO General Manager Edgar Brookins. “She gave all that she had to everyone who asked, no matter who it was. She was able to connect with people of all backgrounds and all levels. She was always able to bring something to the table by providing media exposure to the various community, church, Greek and social organizations. There is not a group that I know of that didn’t have some contact with Sheila Stewart.”
An award-winning journalist, Stewart’s career included stints in radio, television and print. She received a B.A. in broadcast journalism from Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. Stewart was the only one of several siblings to graduate from college.
Blessed with a deep, sultry voice perfect for broadcasting, the former beauty queen also had an enduring interest in working with children and organizations that served them. She mentored at-risk girls and was an avid fundraiser for organizations such as the United Negro College Fund, the National Urban League, the National Congress of Black Women and the Susan G. Kommen Race For the Cure. She was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
Stewart was the author of a motivational book, “Faith and the 3 P’s: Overcoming Obstacles With Prayer, Persistence and Positive Thinking,” which she self published.
Dionne Lewis, program director for Magic 102.3, said Radio One will hold a public memorial service for Stewart, but details had not been worked out yet.
She said Stewart was scheduled to work at 6 a.m. Oct. 24. Within 15 minutes, she was concerned that something had happened.
“That wasn’t like Sheila,” she said.
Colleagues in Silver Spring reached out to Stewart’s sister in Atlanta, who broke the news.
Lewis said she last spoke to Stewart the day before she died.
“We had a daily 9:45 a.m. call and we did that. I talked to her later, because she was flying in today. That was my last conversation with her,” she said.
Her last communication with her friend was via text, Lewis said. “People who know Sheila know how much she always wanted to reach out and be in touch.”