James Haywood “Jim” Stewart, a longtime Waco business leader and founder of the local real estate firm that bears his name, died last week in Florida, where he had lived for several years while battling Alzheimer’s disease. He was 76.
Stewart formed Jim Stewart Realtors in 1970, and it became the dominant real estate firm in Greater Waco, attracting the attention of and becoming part of the Coldwell Banker company in 1999.
Friends and colleagues remember Stewart as a mentor to the residential and commercial agents he recruited, willing to share his expertise and serve as a sounding board.
He would drive the company bus on weekly trips around town to view newly listed homes, the agents on board getting a kick out of his byplay on the loudspeaker. He hired Marketplace Ministries to offer spiritual counseling to staffers facing trying times. And he loved to give parties and plan trips for his agents, sometimes to Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe or Hawaii, and he went along as the chaperone.
“He was the boss, the ringleader, the old mother hen. We loved him,” said Betty Willis, a successful residential specialist who joined Stewart’s firm in 1974. “He changed my life. Everything I know about selling real estate, I learned from him.”
Few were better at working with people and cutting deals, said Earl Patrick, a longtime friend and president of Coldwell Banker Jim Stewart Realtors. Stewart and Patrick acquired and assembled the land for Richland Mall, which opened in 1980 at Waco Drive and State Highway 6.
Stewart also became involved in developing the Crossroads West and Meadowlake Center shopping centers, as well as the upscale Twin Rivers subdivision on U.S. Highway 84.
“The Chicago group that actually built Richland Mall laughed at us and called us the deacons because we were just that, deacons,” Patrick said. “But they also respected us, later sending us to Bossier City, Louisiana, to buy land for Pierre Bossier Mall.”
Brad Davis, a longtime commercial agent with Coldwell Banker Jim Stewart Realtors, said he went on fishing trips with Stewart and they regularly played golf. Neither was very good on the course, he said, “but we had a lot of fun. Jim could make you laugh.”
“He was to real estate in Waco what Ebby Halliday was to real estate in Dallas,” Davis said. “He taught me how to work with people, to prospect, to grind to get things done. He was a leader in every sense of the word, and my mentor.”
Patrick described Stewart as charismatic and said some dubbed him Pied Piper because of his power of persuasion.
Coldwell Banker Jim Stewart Realtors remains one of the largest, if not the largest, real estate firms between Dallas and Austin. It has 50 agents and enjoyed sales of $351 million in 2016, “which was not a record but was a good year,” Patrick said.
‘The perfect boss’
“He was the perfect boss, always there with a hug, a word of encouragement,” Willis said. “I once spent a week in the hospital, and he was there at 6 in the morning every day because he wanted to be there when the doctor arrived. That’s just the way he was.”
Willis said Stewart’s sense of humor kept agents laughing on his bus trips, though his driving sometimes left much to be desired.
“He’d wipe out a few mailboxes,” she said with a laugh. “And he was known to leave an agent who spent too long inside a home.”
Stewart served as president of the Board of Realtors in 1973 and was named Waco’s Realtor of the Year in 1974. He was a longtime member of Highland Baptist Church, where he served as chairman of the deacons and on the Board of Elders.
Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday at Highland Baptist Church, the Rev. Barry Camp officiating. Burial will follow at Oakwood Cemetery. Visitation is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey Funeral Home.