Remembering Dr. G. Alec Stewart

The passage of time is a curious reality. Time goes on. Yet, some memories never fade. The impact of some people strengthens over time. G. Alec Stewart – the beloved “Doc,” as most knew him – is one such person. Doc’s death in 2010 was felt by everyone who he impacted through his teaching, wit, mentorship, and friendship.

Five years have passed since Doc’s death, but his legacy of encouraging intellectual curiosity, academic challenge, and of empowering students, lives on in the honors college he founded first as the University Honors Program in 1977 and then as the University Honors College since 1987. His legacy also lives on through the students and colleagues Doc worked with for over 40 years in academia.  

In putting together this five year retrospective, memories of Doc have come in from near and far. He was beloved and for those who knew him, may these memories brighten your day and encourage you to reflect and reminisce. For those who did not know Doc, may these memories paint a picture of the witty and caring intellectual who founded our Honors College.

 

Mike Fasolka ’94

Deputy Director of the Material Measurement Laboratory in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Doc: a great humor,

Warrior poet of mind,

science, art combined

 

Anna Quider ‘07

Director of Federal Relations for Northern Illinois University in Washington

I am grateful to Doc for showing me how to lead an authentic life. My husband and I named our daughter Elaine Alec Gulledge in his honor because we want her to be inspired by his example. I am delighted that she is connected in this way to the Pitt UHC community and I look forward to sharing many stories with her about her namesake.

What I most remember about Doc is his insatiable curiosity combined with an impish streak a mile wide. He was always up to something and he probably had a book for you about it! Needless to say, Doc was an excellent conversationalist.”

 

Chris Chirdon ‘97

Systems Analyst, University Honors College

On the wall in the corner of the UHC was a board on which was written in large, black letters: ‘Dangerous Ideas!’ Doc would post things that were controversial but worthy of discussion on it. It reflected a belief that he had and that I learned from him as well as in my graduate studies in education: Knowledge is contested.

 

Guy Molinari ’83

Counsel, Kilpatrick Townsend

To meet with Alec in the Fall Term of 1979 at the year old University Honors Program, you would visit two broom closet-sized offices on the 9th floor of the Cathedral of Learning.  After hearing about honors course offerings, I asked the UHP Director if space-wise students were likely to hangout much on the 9th Floor.  Alec thought not but said he had his eye on some more suitable space on the twelfth floor.  Alec also saw the top of the Cathedral as a great and possibly underutilized space. Well, why not?  Dreaming is free.

Decades later, providing a tour of the newly renovated space atop the Cathedral, the Dean of the Honors College paused on the stairway between the 35th and 36th floors.

Pointing out the distinctive and superbly crafted steel railing with the encircled quatrefoil motif, Alec noted it was fashioned by hand by a local craftsman whose life experience included limited academic opportunity.

That craftsman told Alec the railing was his proudest achievement -- the application of his talent and best work to add a contribution of lasting quality to higher learning.  The Dean, who didn't often have trouble expressing himself, was grateful for both the achievement in metal and the sharing of a sentiment Alec himself expressed with his work.”

 

Carolyn “CJ” Anthon ‘05

Program Coordinator at Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences

I did not have as much interaction with Doc as I would have liked, but I did have an appointment with him once. I was initially worried about meeting him because he was idolized by many, and I wanted so very much to impress him … I was pretty lost after first semester freshman year. I did well in high school by working hard. I did not expect to feel so un-smart at Pitt … I can't even remember what I met with Doc about, but we ended up talking about books! Somehow that prompted me to look into a UHC Book Club … [T]he biggest take away I had from my meeting with Doc was not to be so afraid. Though I knew I wasn't as intelligent or witty as many of my peers, Doc talked to me as if I were a very important appointment, and I received his full attention … I felt immensely comforted by my conversation and still try to remind myself that while I do not have a PhD, that it's so important to remember to live "life above the neck."

 

Shelly Culbertson ‘99

Policy Analyst, RAND Corporation

Doc demonstrated that you can take a love of ideas and turn that into a life's work … Doc gave me a book, "The Two Cultures," which was about the need to link the culture of science and the culture of humanities, both individually and as a society. It emphasized the importance of thinking in multiple different ways. And I ended up majoring in both a science and a humanity.

 

Justin Chalker ‘06

Lecturer in Synthetic Chemistry & ARC DECRA Fellow, Flinders University

Doc often addressed academic attainment and how it wasn’t just about good grades. Academic attainment was about doing the things you weren’t told to do. It was about setting out to make your own discoveries and impact on the world … Doc’s idea of a University has shaped the way I teach and work with students. I devote a great deal of energy to enable students to pursue a life of the mind. I am motivated by Doc’s academic values when I promote and facilitate undergraduate research, a large and liberal education, and curiosity-driven scholarship and service.