Remembering Barry Stewart

Remembering Barry Stewart

Long-time Abbotsford teacher, coach and sports figure celebrated

Many have said that time is the world’s most valuable commodity, and for most of Barry Stewart’s adult life he gave that commodity in spades to his students, athletes and the sports he participated in.

Friends, family, colleagues and students came together inside the Abbotsford Senior Secondary gym on Sunday afternoon to give a small slice of that time back to Stewart as the long-time local coach, teacher and sports figure was remembered at a celebration of life.

Stewart, who died on Sept. 12, was remembered as someone who genuinely cared about making the lives around him better.

The event featured 11 speakers sharing some of their favourite Stewart stories, a slide and video presentation and words from Barry’s daughter Sandra, who made the trip from Australia to honour her father.

“Dad would have loved to be here today,” Sandra said. “All of you filled his life with so much.”

Time was one of the overarching themes of the event, as nearly all the speakers thanked the Stewart family for letting Barry be such a big part of their lives. Sandra said that commitment was also something her father enjoyed.

“He loved his job and loved sports,” she said. “And he loved making differences in lives.”

Many of the speakers at the event followed in Stewart’s footsteps and became coaches and teachers themselves. They said his influence made them want to step up.

Jada Sawatzky, who was coached by Stewart as a junior, shared how Stewart once showed up when she was coaching her own girls team in Maple Ridge. She admitted she was a little worried that Stewart wouldn’t be impressed by the skill of her team, but Stewart encouraged her.

“You’re giving these kids a chance,” she recalled him telling her. “And giving kids a chance is what defined his career.”

Kim Ross, another former student of Stewart, said he has been a constant in her life, noting that three generations of her family were taught by him.

“He lived a life of purpose,” she said. “And he helped his students lead a better path through life. Just think of all the lives he made better and were saved.”

Bruce Nicholson, who worked with Stewart for several years, shared a funny encounter with Stewart years later inside a local grocery store.

“We were both shopping in Safeway and I bumped him a little bit with my cart,” he said. “He spun around and said, ‘Nicholson, I thought you were dead.’ ”

Ian Levings, who is now the principal of Eugene Reimer Middle School, coached junior football with Stewart in 2004 and remembered some of his unique fashion choices.

“The kids asked me, ‘Why is Mr. Stewart wearing plastic bags on his shoes?’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘It’s to keep his feet dry.’ Then the kids asked me , ‘Why is he wearing shorts over his sweatpants?’ I told them I had no idea.”

Levings said he was coaching with Stewart at Vancouver College when Stewart suffered a heart attack in 2004. He remembered Stewart wanting to work on practices shortly after recovering and that Stewart was ready to return to work with the kids the exact moment his doctor cleared him to do so.

Stewart received so many accolades – he’s a Basketball B.C. hall of famer, member of the Abbotsford Sports Hall of Fame and coached at the B.C. Games, Western Canada Games and the Canada Summer Games – but speakers thought his real legacy is how he made lives better.

“He taught me that leadership is about making everyone else better,” said Lynnet Schramm, who was taught by Stewart and is now the vice-principal at Sardis Secondary in Chilliwack. “He always wanted to expand the game and give everyone a chance to play. We have Barry Stewart field, but we should also have Barry Stewart gym, Barry Stewart school and even Barry Stewart Way.”

An informal social gathering was held at Townhall Abbotsford following the event.