Loy Stewart has a simple approach to life, though his life has been far from uncomplicated. His belief is that “we all know we're gonna die, just not today.”
That's why, even though he's in a wheelchair and suffers from a disease for which there is no cure, he still reports to work every day as chairman of the board at Detyens Shipyard.
The 65-year-old Stewart was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in 2002. Half of those affected by ALS live three or more years after the diagnosis. Twenty percent live five or more years. Ten percent live 10 or more, and that's where we find Stewart. After spending a couple of hours in his company, it's easy to understand why he fits into that small percentage. He's a rare and special individual. But not one so caught-up in himself and his life that he doesn't reach out to others.
The who, not the what
Some years ago, Stewart decided that he would attempt to help 10 people become successful.
He would listen to a person's goals and need of assistance and then if he believed in the person, he would get involved. He calls that “betting on the who, not the what.”
Recently, some people who received his help in becoming successful decided to gather to thank him for his advice, but more importantly, his belief in them.
He had committed himself to helping 10 people. At this impromptu gathering, 29 people stepped forward to say Loy Stewart was the reason they had tasted success.
That's really going the extra mile, especially given that some of that journey's been covered in a wheelchair.
Stewart's wife of 44 years, Judy, died last August. She suffered from multiple sclerosis for 20 years, but every day she got up, dressed and put on make-up. She never quit and that's why he still goes to work. She remains his inspiration.
His office is littered with golf clubs. They're hung on the walls, propped in the corner and displayed in a case. Judy once told him if he brought one more club home, she would leave, so he brought 'em to the office.
Playing golf is the one activity he misses the most since ALS began to progressively weaken his arms and legs. He was able to drive until two months ago, now his grandson is often his chauffeur.
His speech is slurred and it's not always easy to understand what he's saying, especially as the day wears on.
He gets upset if people act like they hear him and clearly don't. He sees it in their eyes. He'd rather they just ask him to repeat something, but they're afraid they'll offend.
This much is clear
There is no cure or treatment for ALS. Stewart continues his fight as the disease progressively affects different parts of his body with each passing day.
His son, Loy Jr., runs the ship repair business now, but knows the company's reputation stems from how his dad ran the place.
“If a customer is unhappy, Dad will hear about it and that's not good for me.”
There's a giant sign on the side of the huge gray building that says “Customer before Company.” The 500 people who work at Detyens embrace that idea the day they're hired.
Stewart captained a multimillion dollar industry. He also funded a middle school sports facility in his hometown of Abbeyville and donated significantly to his college library at Furman. He's given from his pocketbook and from himself all along the way.
It's the hope and belief that he gave to those 29 people to be successful, though, that may prove to be his lasting legacy.
You know what? There are probably more out there we don't even know about.
Reach Warren Peper at email@example.com.