Stewart Bryant, a world adventurer, humanitarian and loving husband passed away on June 8. He was 86. Stewart lived in West Marin for decades. He regaled locals with tales of his days in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. He devoted his time and years of experience as an urban planner to local causes. And he beat the pants off of anyone foolish enough to challenge him at tennis.
“He had a big heart. Everywhere he went, he had friends,” said his wife Sheila. “He wanted to help people. He was a kind person, and generous.”
Stewart was born on March 18, 1925 in Washington, D.C. to Naval Lieutenant Commander Stewart F. Bryant and Valeda Johnson. Stewart’s parents were both humanitarians. Valeda was active in the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, and devoted much of her time to help foreign refugees. “During the Great Depression, his parents brought homeless men to the house, and fed them, and let them stay there,” Sheila said.
After his father retired from the Navy, Stewart’s family moved to California. Stewart Sr. became a lecturer of international relations at Stanford University. During the summers, Stewart’s family would vacation in Inverness. “He had a nice childhood,” Sheila said.
Stewart attended elementary school at the Stanford schoolhouse for staff and faculty children, and later to Ojai Valley High School, and Palo Alto High School. He was an excellent student, and a talented track and field athlete in the hurdles and running events. “They wanted him to do football, but he didn’t want to get squashed,” Sheila said.
When he was of age, Stewart volunteered for Naval service. “He went before they called him out,” Sheila said. “Young men were eager to get into that war.” Stewart went to Officer Candidate School, but was anxious to see action. He dropped out, and joined the war effort as an enlisted man in the Navy.
“He saw a lot,” Sheila said.
Stewart became Radarman, Third Class on a troop carrier, the U.S.S. Alpine. During one tour in the South Pacific, two Japanese Kamikaze pilots crashed their planes into the Alpine. Gunmen managed to explode one of the planes in the air, but it still plummeted into the ship’s port side.
“It was a very close call. They were told to abandon ship, but they managed to control the fire,” Sheila said.
“It was hideous.” Sixteen seamen were killed in the explosions, and 19 were injured.
After Stewart returned from the war, he enrolled at California State University, Fresno, though he quickly transferred to the University of California, Berkeley. He was interested in international studies, but switched to urban development. He was accepted to Harvard University, paid for by the G.I. Bill, and earned a Masters Degree in Urban Planning.
He held several jobs as an urban planner in California, before moving to Baltimore. There, he helped stop the development of a freeway that would have bisected a Polish and African American neighborhood, and displaced a cemetery. “The Polish and black community were very distressed,” Sheila said. “He stopped it. He saved the communities.”
In the 1960s, Stewart received his first foreign assignment as an urban planner in Ethiopia, where he worked on the Imperial Highway project, sponsored by USAID.
He helped build highways across the country, which previously had to rely on a light aircraft and dirt road infrastructure.
Since its inception in 1961, Stewart had always wanted to serve in the Peace Corps. He joined, and helped with city planning in the Philippines.
Stewart’s first marriage, to Dyveke Watson, ended in divorce. But through the marriage, Stewart gained a son, Stewart III, and a daughter, Terry. Terry predeceased her father when visiting Turkey, in 1990.
When he returned from the Philippines to Maryland, he joined the Unitarian Church’s choir. “He had a deep musical connection, and a good high tenor voice,” said his friend, Dave Brast. “He would sing some of the songs from the old days—mostly leftist, revolutionary songs.”
In the choir, Stewart met a young woman named Sheila. “We didn’t really have dates,” Sheila said. “He would invite me and my young son to his home. It was on a creek, very picturesque. We came on the weekends, and my son would play in the creek.”
Stewart wanted to put down roots again, and marry Sheila, the love of his life. But adventure called, and he took a job as an urban planner in Iraq. There, he also lectured on urban development at the University of Baghdad. During the time he was away, Stewart dutifully wrote home to Sheila.
On his return, Sheila, her 11-year-old son, Raj Dronamraju, and Stewart all moved back to California. Sheila and Stewart were married on August 21, 1978, at the Auburn Courthouse.
Two days after their marriage, Stewart and his family moved to Pakistan, where he got a job working for the United Nations.
The Pakistani culture was occasionally difficult for Sheila, a free spirit who did not feel the need to be escorted at all times in public—Islamic law was in full swing under the strict rule of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
Stewart’s next job was in Saudi Arabia, in the formerly small port town of Yanbu.
The Saudi government wanted to change the small trading town into a large industrial city, and needed planners, architects, engineers and other professionals from the West and Asia.
“He had fun. He got a little motorbike, and went out in the desert, where Lawrence of Arabia demolished the railroad, when Lawrence was fighting the Turks,” Sheila said.
He brought back several railroad spikes home as souvenirs.
When he returned from Saudi Arabia in 1983, Stewart bought a house in Inverness. He had all but retired, but was still active in the community. He served on the Civil Grand Jury, and was a member of MOW—which stopped the State of California from spraying weed poison on roadside vegetation. “He was a visionary in environmental sustainability,” said his friend, Donna Sheehan.
Stewart made many friends in West Marin. “We had a real connection,” said his friend Norman Solomon.
“He was a very kind person, with compassion not only for the people he was talking with, but also for people many thousands of miles away whom he never met.He understood political decisions, the matters of life and death, globally.”
In the late 1980s, Stewart took one final job for NATO in Turkey. “I went with him there, and we had a great time. We were quite happy there,” Sheila said. In 1991, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nato’s funding was cut, and Stewart came back to Inverness.
Back home, Stewart returned to his other great love: tennis. Stewart was always a natural player. “He was brilliant. He never had lessons, and he never practiced,” Sheila said.
He was a longstanding member in the Inverness Tennis Club.
“The Inverness Tennis Club was established in 1928, and from 1928 to 1978, Stewart was third among the men’s winners,” said Club President Doug Johnson.
“He was a good tennis player, no doubt about it. Stewart won his first championship in 1946, and won a further 11 championships before his death.
Stewart suffered from chronic heart problems, and had to undergo a triple bypass operation in 2001. Every year, Stewart and Sheila celebrated the anniversary of the surgery.
“The doctor told him, ‘I’ve given you ten years of life,’ so every year we celebrated, because he was still here,” Sheila said. “It would have been the tenth anniversary next month.”
Stewart will be missed. “Now that he’s gone, I hear him speaking to me,” Sheila said. “I ask, ‘What would Stewart do?’ and I hear him say, ‘It’s fine.’”
Stewart Bryant is survived by his wife, Sheila; his son, Stewart, his brother, Alden; and sister, Valeda Randall.