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December, 2002

Moo Town News
By Judy Borello

No Regrets

I have learned this week of Walt Stewart's unbelievable courage in facing a death sentence from his doctors who have said there is no hope, no cure for the lung condition he is suffering and is decision to leave the hospital and bide his time left at home. The doctors said it could be hours, days or possibly months, but that Walt's time is numbered. Learning about this serious dilemma from my bartenders - "Yummy," Linda and Helen, I went into a declining slump. What do you say to him? What do you write in a card? I was in a quandary -- big time -- on how to deal with this delicate situation confronting such a wonderful man. And then the answer came via my bartenders at the Old Western Saloon. They conveyed to me that Walt had no regrets as he has accomplished all that he could through his passion and God-given talents of sketching high-profile, famous court cases as well as his roust-about love of adventure, his many jaunts of carousing in Sausalito, where he once lived on a boat, at Rancho Nicasio, the Old Western Saloon and, of course, Smiley's in Bolinas, where he has lived for years.

When I first encountered Walt in the 1970's, I was bartending and in he came -- his eyes glistening with merriment (with a capital M!) and his parrot "Dum Dum" adorning his shoulder. Shortly after that, he sketched a picture of the old ornery cowboy Jim McCan which still hangs atop the wall over the Old Western Saloon stage. Walt, of course, captured McCan's feisty disposition most accurately!

One day Walt expressed concern to me about "Dum, Dum" because his parrot had been acting up for the past two weeks, nibbling his ears and nervously pecking him. I asked him how old "Dum, Dum" was and when Walt told me he was seven years, I jokingly quipped that "Dum, Dum" was probably in heat and going through puberty as parrots have a life span of 50 to 100 years and it seemed reasonable to assume that at year seven, hormones could be flowing. Well, Walt came in a week later and said he had taken "Dum, Dum" to a bird shrink and that is exactly what was happening! We both got belly rolls of laughter out of that one.

Walt was born in San Francisco at Children's Hospital some 71 years ago and spent his formative years in Pacific Heights and his teen years in Berkeley. Bathing before his graduation from University of Pacific, he slipped and fell through his shower door and severed many tendons in his right hand, leaving it partially paralyzed. Thank God he sketches with his left hand! Walt was recently proud to be honored as "Alumni of the Year" from that university. He has also won many awards and honors from his 35 years with NBC serving with Tom Brokow, John Chancelor and Huntley Brinkley, as well as five years working with CNN. Walt also has received three Emmys and an Associated Press Award of Excellence in the USA.

Standing in proximity of the famous "grassy knoll" of the Kennedy assassination was Walt with his trusty camera. The shots he took that day became important clips and footage which have been used many times in demystifying the assassination of the President.

Some of the famous cases that Walt has captured with his ultra-talented sketching include the Jack Ruby Trial, the Charles Manson Trial, the Patty Hearst Trial, the Juan Corona Trial (this man was tried for killing and burying 25 people and Walt thinks they got the wrong man), the Dolorian Trial, the Oklahoma City Bombing Trial, the Una-Bomber Trial, the recent Stayner Trial in Yosemite, the Trailside Killer Trial of John Carpenter, including those murders he committed in the Point Reyes National Seashore, and the Angela Davis Trial. To list them all would take this entire column.

My bartenders refer to Walt as "the bouncing Buddha" due to the fact that he has bounced back many times in the face of his affliction. And I can attest to the fact that when doctors say that there is no hope, I say, "Yes, miracles can happen," as they did for me when I suffered through an aneurysm some years ago and my children were told that there wasn't much hope. My trusted friend Marty Medin suffered a stroke as well as cancer and is very much alive today -- high spirited, and strong willed in mind and body. These are his essential beliefs along with a marvelous sense of humor. When my son Thor was in a car accident some years ago, he wasn't given much of a chance to live, but he also made it through. I firmly believe that miracles can happen.

Walt, it has been such a pleasure to talk to you this past week. What started out as an awkward situation in which I felt completely nervous turned into a very touching, meaningful conversation thanks to you and your positive, gracious attitude which made me feel comfortable instantly. There's a lot of love and rooting for you, Walt, here in West Marin, as you have given so much joy to all of us.

I wrote this poem when I was eighteen years old trying to express how I would accept death if it came, as it could happen at any time. I've printed it in a previous column but this time it's for you, Walt, because I know you can relate to the message I'm trying to convey.

"The Inevitable"

"Hello, Mr. Death, how do you do?/Is it my time, am I overdue?

Gambling with you is always in vain,

because a stay of execution is all that I gain.

So come let us dance, laugh and have fun,

For I am exuberant, my work is all done.

I have lived life to the fullest, and my memories are dear,

As a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis

The inevitable is here.

So take my hand, Mr. Death, let's explore the unknown,

Let me roam the world in peace, to seek my new home."

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving, Point Reyesins! And there is sure a lot to be thankful for - family, good friends, and yummy food all year round here in the West Marin Community. And a special thanks to Walt's caregiver Sarah Hart and his secretary Jenny.

Editor's note: Walt Stewart passed on Wednesday night, November 17.

 

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