Gov. Mike Pence and City Council President Ryan Brand were of one mind in their remarks at a ceremony Wednesday during which the Second Street Bridge was renamed to honor former Mayor Robert N. Stewart.
Both men described Stewart, 84, as a “bridge builder” in a number of respects.
Brand said the former mayor had symbolically established bridges which joined a variety of public and private sector groups in getting things done. He noted several of the key projects associated with Stewart’s leadership, including economic development, the Front Door project and Ethnic Expo.
Columbus native Pence remarked at the personal pleasure he experienced when he signed the executive order to rename the Second Street Bridge, as it’s been known since opening in 1999, as the Robert N. Stewart Bridge.
“As a kid who grew up in Everroad Park, I can’t tell you how honored I was to sign that order,” he said. “Bob Stewart became mayor not to hold office but to make a difference.”
Much of Wednesday’s ceremony — which brought about 200 people to the parking lot of the historic pump house alongside the newly renamed bridge — was about what Mayor Kristen Brown described as “the pièce de résistance” of the Front Door project. However, many of those in the audience reflected on the overall influence Stewart exerted during his three terms in office, from 1984-1996.
“His greatest gift was an ability to bring all of the key players in the community together to deal with important issues,” said Sherry Stark, who served as director of community development under Stewart. “That was especially evident in Focus 2000, which was essentially a group of leaders who developed a vision for the community and facilitated others in achieving their goals.”
Focus 2000 was a steering committee headed by Henry Schacht and Jim Baker, respectively the chairmen of the then-named Cummins Engine Co. and Arvin Industries.
“Let’s face it, there just aren’t a lot of people who could get important leaders like Henry Schacht or Jim Baker to take on that kind of assignment,” said businessman Hutch Schumaker, whose father Ab Schumaker was a member of the Columbus City Council during Stewart’s tenure. “It demonstrated his abilities as a convener, a man who could get people to the table to envision how the city could be made better.”
The Focus 2000 group had the services of an informal staff that included Stark; Randy Tucker, community relations manager at Cummins; and the late Fred Meyer, who held the same position at Arvin.
“We worked with a variety of individuals and groups on specific projects such as fighting substance abuse, expanding Mill Race Park, staging the Farm Progress show,” Stark said. “Sometimes we helped facilitate things such as funding or developing the infrastruc-ture of a particular undertaking.”
Such delegation of duties was described as a hallmark of Stewart’s style of governance.
“He let people do their job,” said Chuck Wilt, former director of the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department. “He always told us that he didn’t know all the answers and wanted to surround himself with people who could get the job done. He didn’t micromanage projects or try to inject himself into the deliberation process.”
Hutch Schumaker also recalled that style of leadership.
“His greatest strength was that he surrounded himself with good people and got out of their way. I was an ex-officio member of the Focus 2000 staff, and we’d meet in the conference room next to the mayor’s office. He’d poke his head in the door, look around at the group and say, ‘Well, I see everything’s in good hands. I’ll see you later.’”
Political party lines were blurred during Stewart’s administration, an attitude that was reflected in his long relationship with Ab Schumaker.
“Politics made absolutely no difference to either one of them,” Hutch Schumaker said. “My dad was a lifelong Democrat, but Bob (a lifelong Republican) included him in all important discussions and sought out his counsel often.”
While noted for the progressive projects undertaken when he was in office, Stewart was also recognized for a personal style that was rooted in his affection for the Columbus community.
“One of his last acts in office was to rename Lincoln Center in honor of the Hamilton family,” Wilt said. “The Hamiltons had made the original gift of the ice-skating facility to the city (in the early 1960s) but didn’t seek any recognition. Bob just thought it was time that the family got the recognition they deserved.”
Stewart himself noted that sense of belonging in his brief remarks during Wednesday’s ceremony.
“I am often reminded of the saying attributed to Euripedes: ‘Where the good things are, there is home,’” he told the audience.
“This beautiful structure is that welcoming gateway bridge that signals to all that Columbus and its people are where the good things are — our home and community.”