Sheila Stewart, who grew up the youngest of eight children in tiny Great Falls in southeastern Chester County before becoming a national radio figure on the air, died Thursday after a car crash in Atlanta. She was 44.
Stewart, who leaves a 3-year-old son, worked for years at Power98, WPEG-FM in Charlotte, where she was news and public affairs director and on-air personality at the station that is perennially among the most listened to in the Charlotte region. After leaving Charlotte, she worked for years for Radio One in Washington, D.C., where she interviewed President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, among other accomplishments. She had moved to an Atlanta station recently.
Stewart’s success was an inspiration to not just family members, but the entire Great Falls community, said her nephew, Brandon Dewese, a Great Falls High graduate and senior engineering student at the University of South Carolina. When she lived in the area, Stewart used her position to try to motivate young people.
“My aunt always wanted people to try and do all they dream about,” DeWese said. “She would host talent shows, do school assemblies, anything. Growing up everybody knew her from the radio.”
After graduating from Great Falls High School in 1987, Stewart attended Benedict College. She taught at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte during her tenure as one of the most recognizable voices in the region, even starting a foundation to award scholarships to minority students. Her success continued in Washington, as she won several awards, including a Crystal Award for outstanding community service from the National Association of Broadcasters after helping to raise more than $40,000 when a 9-year-old girl went missing.
Yet she started out in the tiny Mitford community just outside the town limits of Great Falls.
“My sister met with President Obama, she had lunch at the White House with the First Lady,” said Brenda DeWese, one of Stewart’s older siblings. “I don’t know of anyone else from Great Falls High who had such great success, who reached so high in their career, who was able to meet with the president and his wife. She helped so many people along the way. We were all so proud of her and all she did. We are heartbroken.”
Russell McCutcheon, of McCutcheon Funeral Home in Winnsboro in Fairfield County, which is serving the family, said Stewart’s death has brought condolences from all over America.
“This is a woman who touched people and wanted young people to be successful just like she was,” McCutcheon said.
Funeral arrangements are still incomplete, but the family is receiving friends at Stewart’s mother’s home, 5945 Heritage Road, Blackstock.