When I heard of the sudden passing of Bill Stewart, like most of you, I was in disbelief for a time. I knew Bill because he and my wife graduated from Magnolia in the same class of 1970. That was over 40 years ago. I, myself, had not seen him in person since 1969, the year I graduated and left for the service.
As the realization of his death set in, I knew I wanted to write a column that would be meaningful in the dozens of stories being written about the man we came to know as Coach Stewart. But how after 40 years of not seeing someone in person could I genuinely write about the man he was today, that hadn't been said countless times. After all, the Bill Stewart I knew existed in the time of the late-1960s. Anything since then was the image of a man I saw only on TV and read about in the print media.
I rolled the thoughts about a story around in my head as I often do for a while, trying to find words that I felt inside. At first I wondered, did I have a story to print? How to write a story about the man Bill had become over those four decades since we last talked. The professional media had already and would continue to print words about the man Bill had become and his career as a coach. Writers much more skilled in journalism excellence have filled the media's headlines for several days with accounts of his many years in football and a life time of game stats.
There were stories of Bill and his faith-a strong faith that played a large part in his life. That faith helped guide the man he had become over the years. There were accounts of good deeds when people needed a little hope during hard times in their lives. A visit from Bill to bring a kind word or a prayer in difficult times was not uncommon. And I would believe they were done with a smile and his easy way of speaking that I remember from years ago.
I began to believe there were no words left to be said about this man we knew as Coach Bill Stewart. Anything I would have to say or write would just be a rehash of others accounts of those years since our last meeting.
But then I remembered something Andy Warhol said in 1968, "In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." Those words and Bill's death for some reason stuck in my mind for a couple of days after his death. I asked myself why those words, and why could I not put them out of my mind?
At the cemetery that Friday afternoon, I saw the crowds of people standing after the final words were spoken, just looking upon the place he would be laid to rest. People were standing with disbelief still upon their faces in the unseasonably hot afternoon in May. Again I thought about Andy's words, "In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." I knew the words had meaning, but why did I find them leading me to Bill Stewart and his untimely death? After all, Bill's fame was far more than 15 minutes in a career that stretched 40 years.
When I got home I did a little research on the phrase that was stuck in my mind. As I did I began to realize the phrase has taken on a life of its own since Warhol first spoke those words. I began to realize sometimes it is not about the turning of hands on a clock that mark the passing of minutes, but the turning of a life in the time set for each of us.
Bill most likely did not go into coaching to become famous, but to teach the game he loved to those who wished to learn. Over the years he worked hard in his chosen career and grew as a man in coaching and his faith. As he did, his 15 minutes of fame began to pass by as he also shared those passing minutes with those he touched along the way.
At first it was only those who were close to him that could see his aura of his special fame. It wasn't something you could put on paper but something he shared of himself. With each new challenge his fame grew as he worked hard to share his love for his faith and the game of football.
Then not so long ago on a football field in Arizona the country shared in his pride for his team, his state, and his faith for a moment in time. The man who always carried his personal fame with him from a young age once again did what he always did, he shared it with all of us that unique gift he had always carried with him. For many that night, they came to realize Bill Stewart and his 15 minutes of fame was a lifetime achievement not measured in the minutes on a clock but in the minutes of a life.
What made him stand out from others who coached football? I believe it was that he made sure we all shared in that 15 minutes of fame he spent a lifetime accumulating. He made us proud to be Mountaineers in a state he loved. He asked nothing of us, but to share in his 15 minutes. Bill took his fame and gave each of us part of the joy to share. I believe he did it because that was the type of man Bill Stewart always was.
Bill is gone and the clock has ticked off the last 15 minutes that spanned the life time of a good man. And as long as we each remember the man who shared so much with all of us both on and off the field, we will keep adding time to that clock of fame he shared with each of us. His sports accomplishments we shall long speak of when we remember him. But his accomplishment for being a man who loved his family and his faith will live beyond each of us, not by words but by deeds he lived and shared.
May we each remember the man from our community who found fame in his 15 minutes and shared that gift with each of us, as we look Thru the Lens.