Your Neighbor: Meet Robert Stewart

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 16, 2023

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By Mandy Haggerson

For the Clemmons Courier

As many proud Americans celebrated the service of United States veterans this past Saturday, Robert Stewart was one of them.

“From as early as I can remember, I made fond memories of my dad teaching us how to shoot guns around 4 or 5 years old. He would also take my brother and I hunting in the woods,” Stewart said. “Much of my childhood was also centered around our family, many of whom served our country. I had 35 first cousins and was close to all of them. That’s an important value I took from my childhood.”

Stewart’s family traveled throughout the state of North Carolina due to his father’s job working for the state.

“We ended up back in the Winston-Salem area near our family for high school. I was in the first class to graduate from Parkland High School back in 1966,” Stewart said. “My brother had chosen to go into the United States Navy, and so when I was a senior, I went to visit with a recruiter. Once I graduated, I headed straight to boot camp at the Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois. I realized pretty quickly how intense it was going to be.”

After completing his initial training, Stewart was sent to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

“I got there in July, and in November, I was shipped out to Vietnam, where I celebrated my 20th birthday,” Stewart said. “The ship that I was on carried a lot of fuel, ammunition and other supplies. We would have to anchor away from the docks for fear of being blown up and targeted,” recalls Stewart. “At that age, you think you’re bulletproof. You also grew up fast and learned a lot in a short period of time.”

During Stewart’s time in the service, he did multiple tours in Vietnam before getting out. All of his duties and missions were dangerous and high risk, which included navigating the coastal waters of Vietnam to, trying to intercept gun runners, and supporting the aircraft carriers by providing them the necessary fuel and supplies. “After my third tour in Vietnam, my time was up, and I realized I had seen and done enough and was ready to go back home to be with my family in 1971,” explains Stewart.

Stewart moved back to the Winston-Salem area and began working at Hennis Freight Lines.

“I had worked there briefly before heading out to the Navy, and they promised to hold my job for me, which they did,” Stewart said.

He also got married and started a family. Tragically, his wife was killed in a car accident at the age of 25. Their children, Wendy, 53, and Chris, 51, were young when it happened.

While raising his kids and continuing to work at Hennis Freight Lines, Stewart met Anne.

“She was in the claims department, and when I saw her, I told her that I had on claim on that one,” Stewart said.

The couple have been married for almost 50 years.

“I’m sure Anne’s parents were excited for her to marry me because our company was bought out by a company in Chicago, so I had to begin looking for a new job,” Stewart said. “Luckily, I found one in the pest control business that would turn into a career.”

Anne and Robert also added to their family by having two more children, Jessica, 36, and Jason, 33.

“I told my kids there are no halves in our family. There are only brothers and sisters,” Stewart said. “Growing up with a tight-knit family was something I was determined to repeat with my own family, too.”

Their closeness helped with the travels that were necessary due to Stewart’s line of work.

“We lived in Northern Virginia and the Baltimore, Maryland, area for quite a bit. Anne got homesick, and we ended up back down in North Carolina to be near family when I worked with a franchise in Greensboro.”

Now, Stewart is enjoying retirement life.

“I never minded traveling for work much because I really enjoy seeing new things and being in different areas,” Stewart said. “Now that Anne is retired from the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School system and I retired too, we are able to take many adventures. We like hopping in our car and heading out west with our dog, Toby. Whether we go to a rodeo, Las Vegas, or we used to visit our daughter in Texas when her husband was stationed there, we love to just get in the car and go.”

One of the reasons that Stewart likes to drive is so that Toby can join them.

“He travels well,” Stewart said. “He’s about 14 years old now, and we got him from one of Anne’s students who no longer wanted him when he was a small puppy. She had always loved chihuahuas, but I joked when I saw him he definitely wasn’t a chihuahua. It didn’t matter; she loved him instantly, and I got quite the buddy.”

The Stewarts, along with Toby, have several adventures lined up this year.

“We are planning to go to the stock rodeo in Fort Worth, Texas,” Stewart said. “We’ve also got Utah, Nebraska and Wyoming on our list. I’ve got a good buddy from the service out in Wyoming, so we plan to go there as well. We’re making the most out of retired life. Our seven grandchildren ground us, though, and always give us a home base to come back to. We enjoy spending time with them so much, too.”

The grateful retiree reflects on his experiences and feels nothing but optimism and gratitude.

“I’m enjoying this phase of life. I’m very lucky. I credit my mom with any good part that I got. She never drank or smoked my whole life. I’m a lot like my dad,” Stewart said. “He was a good man too. They both taught me that I’ve been lucky to live the life the good Lord gave me.”