Clovis leader’s support for Airmen remains unabated for 50 years
By Janet Taylor-Birkey, 27th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 09, 2006
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- With a laugh as big as the southwest itself, Mr. Ernest O. “Doc” Stewart, local civic leader and military supporter, is officially retired. But at 81 years old, he debunks the myth that retirement means you quit.
“After you retire, you go to work. [You] do the things you felt like you should’ve done when you were working,” he said.
With a downtown office and the help of Mrs. Margie Tyson, his secretary of 49 years, Doc stays on top of things and continues the work he enjoys. The open office invites friends to “come in … visit about current things and things that are going to happen and plans for the future.”
Making plans for the future can begin by writing letters and getting involved with a local church, said Doc, adding that many pastors are connected in the local community.
Although enjoying the opportunity to express his opinions on a variety of issues, Doc knows there are those who think their opinions do not matter.
“I say to them, ‘I’m sorry, I disagree with you; your voice does matter,’” he said.
Doc has hope for the future when he looks at young men and women. “The older I get, the more respect I have for this generation. They will make a difference in our future. They are becoming very well educated … assessing the ability to work computers and high-tech machinery. I think these young people are smart, smart young people.”
Watching Cannon and surrounding communities reap the benefits of citizens being involved is the reason he continues working on behalf of others.
Quality of life issues for Airmen are a focus of Doc’s desire to make a difference.
“The quality of life is what we all work for; the quality of life and family,” he said. “[Airmen and their families] should live as good as we all live.”
While working on behalf on the local community, Cannon and military personnel, Doc sees his contributions as one side of a coin: “The Air Force brings to us a different sense of education, respectability and encouragement for our community,” he said.
Not only is his work on behalf of the Air Force rewarding, Doc also sees his efforts as a way to say thank you to the Air Force for saving his oldest son’s life while on a tour of duty during the Vietnam War.
At one point, his son, (then) Lt. John Stewart, became surrounded by Viet Cong while leading his troops. The Air Force came in with a flight of jets and delivered the troops from a sure death, said Bobby Jack Stewart, Doc’s third son.
Situations such as these motivated Doc to rally for Air Force troops. With a pensive demeanor not often seen in him, Doc states that “it was just very important that I begin to work for them under those circumstances.”
Rallying for Cannon troops for more than 50 years helped his nomination as the recipient of the Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award, the highest civilian award given by the Air Force.
Although having been the focus of many articles, Doc does not see his accomplishments as a “lone ranger” effort, but credits his wife Martha in giving him four sons, seven grandchildren and six great grandchildren, who he says are his greatest assets.
Along with his family, there are those he insists are a vital part of anything that has been credited to him. “All of these things I’ve accomplished would not have been accomplished without a strong support group and our Committee of 50. Without the help of … men of this caliber, it wouldn’t have taken place.”