Our dad, Stewart Sawyer, passed away Saturday night, March 31, 2018, from complications following spinal surgery. He was a fighter. He taught us grit. During his final hours, his family joined him at his bedside to share loving memories, mourn, and say goodbye.
We talked about dad. What do we want people to know about Big Stew?
Inspired by Hemingway’s six-word story, this is a story of our dad’s life: “Hello, I’m Stew. You’re my friend.”
When you get six words, you tend to get picky about the words you choose. “I’m your friend,” was an option. It’s close, but it doesn’t quite fit. In a charming way, Stew didn’t really give a stranger the chance to opt in. He more declared it. He touched many, many lives along each path he walked – family, personal, and professional.
Dad was born March 17, 1942, in Hillsboro, Ore. Born on St. Patrick’s Day, he loved celebrating his birthday awash in green, offering a playful wink as he proclaimed his faux Irish ancestry.
Dad grew up in small Oregon towns in the aftermath of WWII, where he learned to hunt and fish.
He learned to work hard and fix things on his own, and he learned the value of community. At age 9, he moved to The Dalles, Ore. In his early teens, he loved to compete in basketball, football, and especially baseball. He excelled in school, played leading roles in high school plays, and earned his Eagle Scout badge before graduating valedictorian and National Merit Scholar.
Dad attended the University of Oregon, graduating from the Honors College with a degree in research and applied mathematics. He was a leader in the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity and a member of the Air Force ROTC. Before leaving U of O, he met his lovely bride, Sandra Marie Dornfeld, on a double-date and fell in love.
Shortly after graduation in 1964, Stew and Sandy married and moved to Illinois, where State Farm had recruited him as a property casualty actuary. In 1971, the family moved to San Francisco, Calif., where Stew went to work for Fireman’s Fund as a leader in actuarial services for 14 years.
He balanced work with love for family, sport and the outdoors. He coached all three of his children in baseball/softball and took his family on annual camping trips to the Sierras and Yosemite Park. In 1985, the family moved to Bellevue, Wash., where Stew worked for United Pacific as Chief Actuary. He moved to the agency side of actuarial services with Acordia and ended his career as Vice President and Actuary for Wells Fargo Special Risk.
Stew loved the outdoors and brought his desire to serve to the Outdoors For All Foundation in 1990. The foundation enriches the lives of children and adults with disabilities through outdoor recreation, a mission aligned perfectly with Stew’s passions.
He served as a board member from 1990 to 2009, including Board Chair from 1991 to 1997.
Outdoors For All was very near and dear to dad’s heart. He considered it a lifetime crowning achievement. In July 2009, dad was elected to the foundation’s Emeritus Board of Directors.
Stew is survived by his wife, Sandy; children, Scott, Susie (Rick) and Steve (Brandy); and grandchildren, Jeremy, Alexa, Shelby, Dylan and Erica.
Family and friends will gather for a Celebration of Life on Sunday, May 6, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Pierce County Environmental Services Building, 9850 64th Street W. University Place, Wash.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages memorial contributions to the Outdoors For All Foundation, (https: //outdoorsforall.org). Please go to their giving section and contribute in Stew’s name.
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