Willie Stewart: a lifetime of service and dedication

If you’re from Tacoma, there’s a good chance you know Willie Stewart. He is an educator, veteran, youth advocate, community pillar, devoted volunteer, and friend. In his more than 60 years in Tacoma, his commitment to building and maintaining inclusive environments in our schools and community has remained steadfast. 

Making his way to Tacoma 

Stewart’s journey began in the small town of Columbus, Texas, where he was born on Christmas day in 1935. His parents were sharecroppers, and he was the tenth of 11 children. During his childhood, Texas schools were fully segregated, and he attended the Columbus Colored School.  

“Every student was Black, every teacher was Black,” explained Stewart. “But the one thing we did have – teachers who were committed to improving the lives of their students.” 

Stewart pursued education, becoming the first in his family to attend college at Texas Southern University, a historically black college, where he earned a degree in biology and chemistry. He began his teaching career in Yoakum, Texas. 

Stewart enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Lewis in 1958. He spent two years on active duty and served in the U.S. Army Reserves for another 30, ultimately achieving the rank of Colonel in the Medical Service Corps. 

50 years of trailblazing and service to Tacoma Public Schools 

In 1960, Stewart was hired by Tacoma Public Schools as a classroom teacher at Gault Junior High. He was the first Black male teacher in the building.  

“There were some who didn’t believe I was Black. They thought I had been painted. So, they would come and rub my hands,” recalled Stewart with a smile. “So, it was an inspiration to me as a teacher to try to be the best.” 

Stewart then served at Lincoln High School, initially as assistant principal for a year before being appointed principal in 1970. This made him the first Black principal in the school district. He remained in this role at Lincoln for eight years before dedicating the next 18 years to serving as assistant superintendent for human resources and personnel. 

After an illustrious 36-year career in Tacoma Public Schools, Stewart continued to serve. He contributed to the community by serving as an elected school board member for six years, a member of the Citizen’s Audit Committee, and as a school volunteer. 

“You’re talking 50-plus years with the district,” said Stewart. “So, my life has really been education and Tacoma Schools.” 

In 2015, the Tacoma School Board honored Stewart by renaming the Re-Engagement Center as the Willie Stewart Academy (WSA). The renaming recognized his relentless commitment to students. Stewart has become a regular fixture at WSA. He mentors students, has a standing monthly lunch at the building, and has attended each graduation ceremony.  

“The most important part is when I visit the school and get a chance to interact with the students and the principal,” said Stewart. “Then I really get excited because it’s meeting some needs.” 

Honoring Willie Stewart during Black History Month 

The Tacoma School Board once again honored Stewart at its February 22, 2024, meeting by naming him a Shining Star Community Partner. This award is given each month to recognize a community partner who has made a difference for students in Tacoma Public Schools.  

It is fitting that we recognize Mr. Stewart in the month of February as a valued part of Tacoma's Black History. In Tacoma, no one has had a more sustained, profound impact on our schools and communities than Willie Stewart.  

Community involvement beyond the classroom 

His impact on the community extends far beyond the classroom and embodies compassion, inclusivity, and dedication to the betterment of others.  

Stewart has been actively involved with the Tacoma Athletic Commission for 51 years, supporting and awarding scholarships to high school athletes. In 2020, he launched the Willie Stewart Community Service Scholarship program in partnership with United Way of Pierce County to celebrate and recognize Pierce County high school seniors who have given back to their community through volunteer service. Each Sunday he volunteers at Urban Grace Church, helping to serve a community breakfast.  

In addition, Stewart is involved in the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound, the Kiwanis Club, Pierce County Housing Authority, Pacific Lutheran University Nursing Advisory Board, Shanaman Sports Museum, Tacoma Chapter of the National Football League and a member of the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize Board. 

“I would like to be remembered that Willie Stewart was a person who had endless energy for community activities,” said Stewart. “That I have been blessed in life and willing to share that blessing by being a volunteer in service to others.” 

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