The loss of a long-time community advocate took Will County by surprise Thursday after County Board member Frank Stewart was found dead in his Joliet home.
Colleagues called the late 66-year-old politician passionate but gentle, and they said he ran for posts on the county board and a local school board simply to help others.
“Anyone he could help, he reached out to them,” said cousin Yvette Foster. “Young and old. Everyone.”
Fellow county board members learned the news Thursday as they gathered for a monthly Forest Preserve District meeting. Stewart was absent, and his fellow 8th District representatives – Herb Brooks and Denise Winfrey of Joliet – asked each other if they’d heard from him.
“That was a red flag,” Brooks said.
That’s because Stewart loved the county board, he said. Friends and family said they hadn’t spoken to him since Saturday. So Foster, who works for the county, said she asked her aunt to check on him Thursday morning.
Stewart lived alone, county officials said, but had one son as well as family in Ohio, California and Washington, D.C. He was a diabetic, and he was on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. Still, the Will County coroner’s office couldn’t offer an official cause of death Thursday afternoon.
Winfrey, who learned the news from Will County Board Chairman Jim Moustis, said she was “caught totally by surprise.”
“Frank has been an institution in the district,” Winfrey said. “I mean that in the best possible way. He has been steadfast about supporting the district.”
And his colleagues said the board’s minority whip looked out for the best interests of Will County, regardless of party politics.
“Frank was a good guy,” Brooks said. “He didn’t argue. He didn’t fuss. He didn’t fight.”
Stewart joined the Will County Board in 1996. He also served on the Joliet Grade School board from 1987 to 2005. He’s listed as a member of the National Association of Counties’ health committee, because he was particularly passionate about the issue of health care.
“He just liked it,” former county board member Margie Woods said. “That and the school board. He had a passion for people, you know? He wanted to see them do well.”
He lived in a modest blue home in the 200 block of Siegmund Street, where neighbor David Partak said Stewart would bring children to help clean up the yards. Stewart was also a long-time member of Mount Zion Baptist Church, where he sang in the choir.
By day’s end, Stewart’s death had prompted several reverent statements from local officials. Moustis called Stewart a “gentle man” with a surprisingly broad political network. Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow said Stewart “had an abiding faith in the political process and an unwavering respect for his colleagues, regardless of their political affiliations.”
And finally, Will County Executive Larry Walsh said Stewart’s passion for health care and education benefitted all Will County residents.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Frank’s entire family during this time of sorrow,” Walsh said. “He will be greatly missed, as a friend and colleague.”