Jerry Stewart wasn’t one of the best doctors in the state of Arkansas. He was “the best.” Nationally-renowned Dr. William W. Stead, co-author of a groundbreaking 1990 study on tuberculosis, held that opinion at the time, and according to Dr. Taylor Prewitt, “he was emphatic about it.”
Stewart died Dec. 26, 2017 at the age of 81. On Thursday (May 10), Prewitt and Stewart’s family and friends were in attendance at the Blue Lion in downtown Fort Smith to receive the Jack White Community Leadership Award in his honor. The program is managed by the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
While Prewitt did not share Stead’s reasons for the declaration — and Stead’s death in 2004 prevented him from doing so — Prewitt believes there were three that went into making this statement a reality. Stewart “worked hard. He loved his patients. And he let them know it.”
Dr. Stewart began his practice in internal and pulmonary medicine with Cooper Clinic in 1970. During that time, he and Prewitt were young graduates and only the eighth and seventh doctors, respectively, to join the Fort Smith-based clinic to that point. Prewitt preceded Stewart in his move from Tennessee, but gives credit for the idea to his friend, who was delayed in coming due to his military service. Eventually, Stewart would take over as the chief executive officer at Cooper Clinic, the first physician to do so. Under his leadership, the organization grew from 60 physicians to around 130.
Prewitt said he and Stewart always dreamed of opening their own clinic and running it their way once the Cooper days were behind them. A few months before Stewart’s death, for one day, the pair were able to do so while lending their efforts to the Good Samaritan Clinic.
“For that afternoon, we were operating our own clinic and doing it the way we wanted to. We told old stories. We reminisced. We made the old, stale jokes, and we had a good time,” Prewitt said. “I like to think of Jerry in that way and the opportunity we had to work together there as well as the many years in the clinic. His activities for the community were absolutely stupendous, and it was a great honor for me to have the opportunity to recognize him, posthumously, to my great sadness.”
Tim Allen, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, credited a post-retirement Stewart for coming back into service as the region faced the threat of losing the 188th. Allen said Stewart gave of his time and his vast knowledge of the area, accompanying him to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., to argue on behalf of continuing the mission. He also helped in the formation of what is now the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA), and he served as Board chairman of the Chamber and the United Way.
Laura Stewart Hood accepted the award on behalf of her father and remembered him as a man who was the same behind closed doors as he was in public, remarking that in a world of “double lives,” the people who knew her father could “rest easy” knowing he treated his family, his work, and his community with the same sense of “servant leadership.”
The Jack White Community Leadership Award is the top honor from the Leadership Fort Smith program and is considered the premier leadership award given by any organization in the region. Since its inception in 1987, the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce-led program has graduated more than 700, many who were in attendance at Thursday’s award presentation and graduation ceremony.