By Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers
With a bellowing laugh, a deep voice and a stature to match at 6 feet 4 inches, Ernest “Doc” Stewart commanded attention. But it was his good nature that won the friendship of some of the most influential men in the military and steered a course for Cannon Air Force Base.
Stewart, who attained legendary status in Clovis as a businessman and a staunch advocate of Cannon, died early Monday morning from heart and pulmonary complications at a Lubbock hospital, according to his family. He was 81.
“He was bigger than life,” said Randy Harris, whose service on the Committee of Fifty overlapped with that of Stewart, one of the original members of the base-advocate group.
“When he went to the Pentagon (to lobby for Cannon), he was characterized as lots of fun, as a friend, and not a threat. He was greeted with open arms by the top Air Force leaders. But he treated everyone the same, whether you were a private, a first-class airman, or a four-star general,” Harris said.
In his years as a base advocate, Stewart secured funding for a string of improvements at the High Plains installation, including the 38,000-acre expansion of the Melrose Bombing Range and the creation of the base’s wastewater treatment plant, which has the capacity to recycle 800,000 gallons of water per day.
He was also an integral force behind construction of a railroad overpass in Clovis.
Stewart settled in Clovis about half a century ago, raising four sons with his wife, while becoming a surrogate father to military men stationed at Cannon.
“He had a great gift for remembering names,” said fellow military advocate and friend Marshall Stinnett. “He would meet all these military people and keep up with them. He would randomly call them up on the telephone just to see how they were doing.”
A swath of land at Cannon was dedicated to Stewart and preserved as a recreation area in 1999 — just one of a banquet of honors Stewart received over the years for his civic efforts.
The countless hours he logged as a volunteer advocate for the base were preceded by six years of service in the U.S. Navy as a chief pharmacist. He earned his nickname, “Doc,” in World War II when he served in the Pacific.
“He did everything from A to Z as a medic. He was the go-to-guy: Whenever they needed help, assistance, materials, bandages, he was the guy,” Harris said.