John W. Stewart, a retired longtime Baltimore Sun sports reporter who spent the last two decades of his career reporting on professional and amateur golf, died of complications from an infection Thursday at the Gilchrist Center in Towson. The Cub Hill resident was 91.
“He might have been involved with the process of receiving score cards as many times as anyone in the history of the game,” wrote Kelly Newland, executive director of the Maryland State Golf Association, in a statement announcing Mr. Stewart’s death.
“He got home late countless hundreds of times and worked until even later to produce articles on the golf competition of the day. He was the encyclopedia of Maryland golf. Furthermore, he was THE golf writer in Maryland — the last one standing — for decades,” Mr. Newland wrote.
Former Baltimore Sun sports editor Gerry Jackson’s late father, Jimmy Jackson, was a longtime sports department reporter and colleague of Mr. Stewart’s.
“He and my dad were good friends and they shared the same desk in the old Sun newsroom on Calvert Street for more than 20 years,” said Mr. Jackson, who is currently the web editor at The Catholic Review.
“They were always arguing about who took whose media guide, ribbing each other, and loved calling each other names. My dad always called him AstroTurf because of his whiffle haircut,” he said. “John was such a loving person and was so dedicated to his golf coverage. He was such a good man and a special friend to my dad and my eight siblings.”
Mike Reeb, who later became a copy editor and The Sun’s running columnist, worked part time during high school as an editorial assistant in the sports department.
“He was a seasoned, veteran reporter when I came to The Sun who had Olympics credentials and covered all of the major golf tournaments, and he treated me as if I had been a colleague for 30 years,” Mr. Reeb said. “But at the same time, he could cover a local high school or college game with the same eagerness and enthusiasm as if it were the Olympics.”
John Woodruff Stewart, son of the Rev. Harris Bates Stewart, and Mildred Stewart, a homemaker, was born in Auburn, New York, and was raised on the campus of the Auburn Theological Seminary
He was a graduate of the Darrow School in Lebanon, New York, and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1952 from Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He was athletic manager for teams at both schools, and earned letters in basketball, baseball and football at Colorado, where he was inducted into its Athletic Hall of Fame.
After leaving college, he served in the Coast Guard as a quartermaster from 1952 to 1956.
Mr. Stewart, who was known for his ever-present salt and pepper crew cut, easygoing personality and wide smile, began his newspaper career in 1957 as a sports reporter and later sports editor of The Dispatch and The Herald Statesman in Yonkers, New York, and covered the 1960 Rome Olympics.
In 1963, he joined the sports department of The Sun where major assignments included covering the 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1984 Olympics.
He also covered the Baltimore Colts, University of Maryland basketball and the Orioles, including the 1970 and 1983 World Series. Mr. Stewart’s greatest pleasure was reporting on professional golf, which was his “passion,” family members said, during the last 20 years of his career.
Mr. Stewart was a familiar figure at the U.S. Open, PGA championships, U.S. Women’s Open and The Masters.
“He had a great love and respect for amateur golf through the Mid-Atlantic region and was a true advocate for golf in Maryland,” wrote his daughter, Ruth Q. Stewart of Bel Air, in a biographical profile of her father.
He was an avid supporter of the Mid-Atlantic Golf Association, Maryland State Golf Association, Women’s Golf Association of Baltimore, Ladies Professional Golf Association, LPGA Amateur Golf Association, and the Golf Writers Association of America, where he was tournament manager for decades.
Stan Klinefelter had served on the Maryland State Golf Association board for a decade and was its president in 2016.
“John had an encyclopedic memory when it came to golf. He would recall every MSGA tournament that ever was. He could tell you the most amazing things about championships from 30 years ago, on what courses they were played, and shots that people made. He was just so widely respected.”
He added: “John was a fixture at the scoring table for years. He was just there, measured and thoughtful, and could always correct you in a nice way.”
Mr. Stewart also was an active member of Baltimore Municipal Golf, a former president of the Atlantic Coast Sports Writers Association and involved with Maryland Special Olympics.
His work earned him wide recognition. In 1991 and 1995, he won the PGA’s Golf Writer of the Year Award, and in 2009, received the Professional Golf Association’s Keeper of the Game Award, and had been honored by the Golf Writers Association of America.
In 1981, Mr. Stewart’s story, “Chasing a Legend at Baltusrol,” which highlighted the career of Jack Nicklaus, won first place in the feature division of the annual writing contest of the Golf Writers Association of America.
In 1980, Mr. Stewart covered the U.S. Open at Baltusrol Country Club in Springfield, New Jersey. In his article, he recalled the 1967 U.S. Open, also played at Baltusrol, which pitted Arnold Palmer against Nicklaus:
“It was not that Nicklaus was winning — he had to come from behind with a brilliant 65 to earn the title — but that he was beating the public’s folk hero, Arnold Palmer, which shocked ‘Arnie’s Army.’
“As fate would have it, the two superstars were paired together each of the last two rounds, and while the crowd cheered Palmer’s every move, even his bad ones, it either kept silent or let out with an occasional boo for Nicklaus, regardless of his shotmaking.
“It was true in 1967 it is true today, and will be true in A.D. 2000. The golfing public genuinely loves Arnold Palmer. It respects Jack Nicklaus, and that has only come grudgingly in the last few years.”
Covering Tiger Woods, who was competing in the 1995 Centennial Amateur in Rhode Island, Mr. Stewart observed: “Champions make great plays in pressure situations. For a fifth straight year, Tiger Woods has proven he’s a champion. Woods, 19, who had won three U.S. Juniors and one U.S. Amateur in the last four years, pulled off a superb 8-iron shot on the 36th hole yesterday to thwart Buddy Marucci, 2-up, at Newport Country Club, becoming the ninth player to defend successfully his title.”
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Mr. Stewart retired in 1999.
In 2011, he was inducted into the Mid-Atlantic Golf Association’s Hall of Fame, and at the time, former president Steve Block insisted that “John Stewart holds the Guinness Book of World Records for most score cards received in his legendary supporting role at the scoring table of hundreds of events.”
“He made hundreds, if not thousands of friends through his love of golf,” his daughter wrote. “He appreciated and loved each and everyone! He did not need or want any fanfare so let’s keep this a secret,” his daughter wrote.
A lifelong Presbyterian, Mr. Stewart was an active member and a former deacon of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, and participated in a mission trip to Kenya in 2002.
His wife of 19 years, the former Catherine Prassel, died in 1981.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Aug. 27 at his church at 10 Lexington Road in Bel Air.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Stewart is survived by a son, George W. Stewart of Parkville; a sister, Ann Burch of Aurora, New York; five grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; five nieces; and a nephew.