A mentor to some, a friend to more and a community champion for all of Hall County — W. Woodrow Stewart is a man to be missed.
The longtime Gainesville attorney and community leader passed away Monday morning at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
The former managing partner of Stewart, Melvin and Frost was 73 years old. He is survived by his wife, Lynda Stewart, his children and grandchildren.
Stewart leaves behind a long legacy of community volunteerism.
Among other things, during his lifetime, Stewart served as: a president of the Gainesville Kiwanis, chairman of the Gainesville Board of Education, vestry of Grace Episcopal Church, chairman of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and director of the Gainesville State College Foundation.
He was also a member of the Northeast Georgia Health Systems Board of Directors.
"Woody was an amazing supporter of Northeast Georgia Health System and played a phenomenal role in the success of our fundraising and friend raising initiatives," said Carol H. Burrell, health system president and CEO.
"He touched our lives in numerous ways as board member, mentor, advisor and friend and will be sorely missed. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to his family and law office partners."
Stewart was an honor graduate of Jefferson High School, who earned a football scholarship to Furman University, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1960.
After graduation, he served in the U.S. Army for three years, receiving the Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service in Okinawa, before being discharged as a first lieutenant.
He earned his law degree from Tulane University School of Law in 1966 and later obtained a Master's of Law degree in taxation from the Emory University School of Law.
As the chairman of the Medical Center Foundation Board of Trustees, the late attorney's peers say in 2001 he played an instrumental role in securing a $4 million donation from the estate of Ronnie Green to benefit Northeast Georgia's open-heart program.
The gift — the first of its kind for the hospital — was used to create the Ronnie Green Heart Center, which has earned the medical center the No. 1 rank in Georgia for cardiac care from Health Grades for the last seven years.
Under Stewart's leadership, the foundation has raised more than $34 million for the medical center and area nonprofits such as Meals on Wheels and the Georgia Mountain Food Bank.
"His life was lived as a lesson in sharing. He loved his community and was passionate about making it a healthier place for all," said Nancy Colston, medical foundation executive director.
"(Stewart) and I worked together on the board for 14 years. I learned so much from him. I, like so many others, was blessed to know him and will always treasure his friendship."
Colston describes the late Stewart as an "incredible man and leader."
Others would agree.
Early in his career, Stewart earned titles like Hall County Young Man of the Year in 1971 and Rotary Man of the Year in 1989.
Northeast Georgia staff and volunteers had recently completed an application to the Georgia Hospital Association, nominating Stewart for the 2012 Distinguished Service Award. The packet included letters of recommendation and testaments of character from many community members, including retired attorney John Melvin.
In his comments, Melvin — a longtime friend and former law partner — spoke about Stewart's dedication, even as a teenager on the Jefferson High School football team in Jackson County.
"After we finished an already long day, Woody would head to the football practice field for gut sprints. It was August in Georgia with temperatures over 95 degrees," Melvin remembered, who counted Stewart as a friend for more than 60 years.
"Everyone else was looking for a cool spot and a cold Coke. (Stewart) would be out there by himself, a lone runner on the practice field giving it everything he had. Even then, (Stewart) was driven from the inside out to be the best he could.
"He has made those of us who know him improve ourselves. Through his service to the health system he has positively impacted thousands in our community who will never know what a tremendous difference he has made in their lives."
Memorial services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Grace Episcopal Church, with family receiving friends in the church Parish Hall after the service.