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Chester Lawrence Stewart

Chester Lawrence Stewart died peacefully Tuesday afternoon June 4, 2013 at Providence Hospital, Southfield, Michigan.

Known as a quiet, gentle man his entire life, the few words that he spoke always had purpose and meaning, his passions defined not by what he said but by what he did.

Chester was born April 5, 1921 in Chandler, Oklahoma the first child of Chester Luther Stewart and the former Lela Dancy. C.L., as he was called by his family and those who knew him in his youth was followed in birth by his sister, Fern Ernestine. His father held many jobs, including cowboy, carpenter, mechanic, and baseball manager. His mother was a devoted wife and homemaker. While C.L. and Fern were very young the family moved to Detroit, Michigan where Chester Sr. found work at the Ford Motor Company.

C.L. was a hopelessly avid reader who seemed to consume every book he could get his hands on.

He graduated Northwestern High School in 1938 and attended the Ford Motor Company apprentice school as an electrician before enrolling at Wayne State University to pursue a career in law. He also worked at the Ford foundry as a crane operator.

C.L.’s studies were interrupted with the start of World War II when he was inducted into the US Army Air Corps. in 1942. Hoping to become a pilot he soon discovered that his eyesight was too poor and was instead assigned as a clerk-typist. Despite many efforts to be transferred for combat service overseas as an infantryman, paratrooper, navigator, bombardier, or glider pilot, Chester remained stateside in the classification section evaluating and training soldiers for their new jobs after returning from the front.

Before the war, Fern introduced her brother to her friend Clamah Corry Clark who she met while attending Michigan State Normal College in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Although neither seemed to be impressed by the other at first, their fondness grew over their mutual love for reading, music, and the arts. Chester and Clamah were married, November 7, 1943 while Chester was on leave from the army. They welcomed their first child, daughter Carolyn Cordelia, at the end of the war followed by sons, Chester Lowell, Lawrence Corrie, and John Spencer.

While in the army Chester became deeply moved then alarmed at the large number of his fellow African-American soldiers who were intelligent but because of the racism and discrimination of the time could neither read nor write. Realizing the impact this had on their future opportunities, Chester decided that he could better serve his people and his country by ensuring that everyone had a fundamental education. With Clamah’s encouragement (and permission) he abandoned the law and began pursuing a career in education.

Chester graduated from Michigan State Normal College (now known as Eastern Michigan University) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in social science and the University of Michigan with a Master of Arts degree in education. He began teaching at a school for maladjusted boys in Toledo, Ohio before becoming employed with the Detroit Board of Education in 1954. Chester taught Social Studies and Mathematics at Estabrook Elementary, McMichael Junior High, and was social studies department head at Barbour Junior High before being promoted to Assistant Principal at Custer Elementary in 1965. He was appointed Director of the Miller Demonstration Project in 1968 before being promoted to Detroit Public Schools Region 7 Assistant Superintendent where he remained until his retirement in 1983.

Throughout his education career Chester continued to serve his country in the U.S. Air Force Reserve through the Korean, Vietnam, and Cold Wars. He was commissioned as a Captain in 1957 and served as administrative, training and operations officer and squadron commander of several units until he retired in 1979 at the rank of Major after 37 years of continuous service.

He was profoundly committed to the Friends of the Detroit Public Library where he led the Great Books program. He was also a founding member of the Detroit Black Storytellers Group, a member of the Detroit Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen’s Association, and the Reserve Officer’s Association. He was a patron of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Opera Theatre, the Detroit Institute of Arts and many other service organizations that are too numerous to count.

Chester Lawrence Stewart was preceded in death by his parents, his sister Fern and his youngest son John. He is survived by his loving wife Clamah, his daughter Carolyn Williams, and sons Lowell (Linda) and Lawrence (Orchid), grandchildren Megan, Chester Lyndon, Tiffany Sylvertooth-Williams (Richard), Tyanna Taylor-Stewart, and Lawrence Corrie the second, six great-grandchildren and many nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

 

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