John Kenneth Stewart
June 2, 1934 – September 5, 2020
John died at home with his family around him after two years of cancer. He was a remarkable and beloved man of many relationships and accomplishments through many eras. His joy and endless curiosity about anyone that he ever met was coupled with keen intelligence, authentic emotions and a one-off sense of humor. A Renaissance man, he was a lot of fun and he filled up every room he entered.
John was born in San Francisco during the depression, the son of Patricia Rhodes Stewart and John Kenneth (Jack) Stewart. His sister Nancy was born two years after John while they lived in San Francisco. At the end of the war, John’s family moved to Palo Alto. John reveled in the time he spent at the progressive Peninsula School, Jordan Middle School and at Palo Alto High School where he was an excellent student. He was also a star, all conference athlete in three sports during years that Paly High won numerous league and state championships. He was named the Examiner Newspaper Northern California athlete of the year in 1952.
Like both of his parents, John went to Stanford majoring in History. He also played football and track. While he never made it to the Rose Bowl, John caught and dropped many passes from quarterback John Brody. He was an all Pacific Coast Conference receiver in 1954 and 1955. At his 50th college reunion, John pointed out that graduating in the mid 1950’s in California meant serendipitously catching the dynamic postwar era wave at its prime.
After graduation, John moved to Los Angeles. He worked briefly for US Steel leaving as he said, just before they fired him for asking difficult questions about their pricing. He moved on to work for TRW for the next 15 years. In 1964 TRW transferred him with his wife and three children to Houston, Texas. There he volunteered at a civic organization where he joined the committee on low income housing. He found his future. His facility with numbers and complex projects and his love of engaging with all kinds of people led to his being asked by the Mayor of Houston to help create a low income housing plan for the city. As part of that effort, he met with HUD and the Ford Foundation while managing a large staff of City of Houston employees.
The family moved back to Los Angeles after four years in Houston. It was the late 1960’s and the world was changing. John’s life also changed then, as he and his wife divorced in the early 1970’s. He stayed in Southern California while his children and their mother moved to Sonoma. As a single dad and uncle, John continued his work in housing while seeing his children and also his sister’s east coast children as commuters. Eventually the distance from his children led to his 1975 move back to Northern California.
John moved to a bachelor quarters in Tiburon in 1975 working in housing management and development until 1978 when he launched his own firm, the John Stewart Company. But all that was secondary he would say to the fact that he met Gussie Dawes. They happily married in 1980 and stayed that way for more than 40 years. Two major life changes in a very short time.
The John Stewart Company, JSCo, is his legacy. The company grew from 3 to almost 1500 employees. They develop, manage and own affordable housing throughout the State of California. John loved what he always called “brain damage deals”. He worked with 7 different mayors of San Francisco and many non profit housing developers to make complex deals happen and get housing built. He founded a company where people wanted to work and assured that the company and its contributions would continue beyond him. To that end, he was succeeded by a superb CEO when he became Board Chair. John always said that he was fortunate to have founded a company with a high value added product and services, the development and management of affordable housing, with the added blessing of having his colleagues become life long friends.
While starting and building the company was his life’s work, John also served on a number of boards including the National Cooperative Bank, Low Income Investment Fund, Mercy Housing, Non Profit Housing Association of Northern California, Habitat for Humanity and SPUR. He was honored with the Silver SPUR award in 2012. He had long, robust conversations, set up many a lunch at Sam’s and hosted many parties to celebrate life milestones and to raise money for good causes. In the last two decades of his life he wrote articles for the San Francisco Business Times and became actively involved in rough and tumble politics. He joined various PAC’s, J Street of Washington, DC and fund raised for many candidates and issues that he believed important. He led a wonderfully full and rewarding life.
John is survived by his loving wife of 40 of years Augusta Stewart, his children Sarah (Jonathan Bloch) of Cambridge, MA and London, Jennifer Stewart of San Francisco and John H Stewart of Kingston, NY and his grandchildren Sophie Stewart Bloch of Brooklyn, NY and Nicholas Stewart Bloch of Minneapolis, MN. He is also survived by his sister Nancy Rush of Boston, MA and his nephews Christopher, Andrew and Edward Shea, Richard Bowditch and niece Lowell Bowditch. He is also survived by his two step sisters Jane (Walter Barry) and Barbara (Chuck Preuss) and his first wife, Shannon Wilson of Honolulu.
John also leaves untold numbers of colleagues and friends of many years, generations and locations who filled his life with joy and tolerated his quirky sense of the absurd.
A celebration of John’s life will happen post pandemic. To remember John, in lieu of flowers please consider a donation in his memory to the one of the housing groups that mattered so deeply to him: Mercy Housing, Non Profit Housing Association of Northern California, or The Low Income Investment Fund.