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Marin Independent Journal
Friday, December 6, 2002
Section D, page 1

Courtroom artist Stewart dead at 71
by Con Garretson, IJ reporter

Emmy-winning courtroom sketch artist Walt Stewart, who skillfully drew numerous high-profile criminal defendants for television and print media, died the day before Thanksgiving at his Bolinas home. He was 71.

Mr. Stewart's work rose to prominence as television news outlets increased their coverage of legal proceedings where cameras were frequently barred.

Born Walter Preston Stewart III, the San Francisco native was first assigned to cover the trial of Jack Ruby by the Dallas television station where he was working as an assistant art director in the early 1960s.

He had a long affiliation with NBC and its local affiliate, KRON, but his work appeared on all types of news programs - from the Huntley-Brinkley Report to Court TV - as well as in national and international newspapers and magazines.

Mr. Stewart drew many of the most infamous people to appear in court during the past 40 years, including Sirhan Sirhan, Charles Manson, the Soledad Brothers, John DeLorean, Patty Hearst, Squeaky Fromme, Charles Ng, Theodore Kaczynski, Terry Nichols, Timothy McVeigh and, most recently, Yosemite killer Cary Stayner.

He won Emmys for his coverage of the Dan White (1980) and Juan Corona (1984) trials, as well as for his breaking news sketches of the PSA crash over San Luis Obispo County (1988).

Mr. Stewart, who had a heart attack in his 50s and limped as result of polio, never bucked any assignments because of his health. Shortly before his death, he told family and friends that he "had the best job in the world."

He hosted more than 100 friends from a hospital bed in his living room at his Horseshoe Hill Road home on Nov. 14 following a weeklong stint at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Rafael, when he was told he would soon succumb to his previously diagnosed lung cancer.

"He looked and acted well," said Jenny Rodin, a friend who took care of him in his final days. "If he hadn't told you he was sick you wouldn't have known. He went from Walt, to unconscious, to dead. It was one hell of a graceful death."

Rodin said she met Mr. Stewart two years ago while she was working as a bartender at the Sand Dollar Restaurant in Stinson Beach, one of his many beloved West Marin watering holes.

"He enjoyed a glass of Merlot," she said. "He wasn't a bar fly, more of a social butterfly. He was just an affable guy. He always remembered the name of every person he ever met. He would return to a place years after visiting it only once, go in and greet the guy he had met before and tell them about the time he had spent there."

Mr. Stewart occasionally drew cartoonish self-portraits, such as a 2001 Christmas card featuring Osama bin Laden, but his professional work was marked by photo-quality images of his subjects.

Among those who turned out to say their farewells to Mr. Stewart last months was Jack Lucey of San Rafael, a retired Independent Journal graphic artist who freelances as a courtroom sketch artist.

Lucey said he and Mr. Stewart often worked side by side during the last 15 years, most recently at a Martinez court appearance of three criminal defendants charges with killing five people in 2000, among them Selina Bishop of Woodacre, the daughter of Marin blues musician Elvin Bishop.

The drawings of both Mr. Stewart and Lucey were displayed by the Marin Arts Council two years ago at the civic Center.

Lucey said Mr. Stewart's skills with his Mont Blanc pen and color markers were equaled by his storytelling abilities.

"He was very good at what he did and his work was very well- received by the picture-dominated media that couldn't get into these courtrooms," Lucey said. "But he also told good stories. He loved to tell stories about all his experiences drawing and dealing with these criminals. If someone told a story, he always had one to reply with that usually outshined the first one."

A graduate of University of the Pacific and Art Center College in Los Angeles, Mr. Stewart recently donated his thousands of sketches and related memorabilia to the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley.

Mr. Stewart, who was never married, is survived by his sisters, Fairfax Donovan of Santa Rosa and Susie Stewart of Bolinas; nephew, Preston Donovan of Petaluma; niece, Deirdre Matthews of Conifer, Co.; and cousin, Morton Lippmann of Stinson Beach.

A memorial service has been tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of Jan. 12 at the Stinson Beach Community Center. For more information, call 868-1444.

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