Pastors' Memoirs

Herbert Gill Stewart, 1909 – 2006

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Herbert Gill Stewart (Herbie) was born on May 3, 1909, in Petersburg as the second of five children to Charles H. Stewart Sr. and Willetta McCann Stewart. The family moved to Portsmouth in 1926. This began the start of his career as a church organist at Park View Methodist while still a junior in high school. His father served as choir director until Herbert took over. He served Park View Methodist Church until 1958.

Herbert started piano lessons at age 9. He later attended William and Mary College for two years where he sang in the Glee Club and played the organ on Sundays. In 1938, Herbert and others had a vision for a community concert series in Portsmouth. His musical legacy continues today because PCCI is currently celebrating its 68th season.

On April 5, 1941, Herbert married Idoline Roberts. They spent much time together and enjoyed traveling until her death in 1985. In 1942, Herbert became a member of the American Guild of Organists. In 1952, he organized the Portsmouth Chapter for the Guild. Herbert served in the Army from 9/4/43 as chapel, post, radio and theater organist at various Army posts until he was honorably discharged in 1945.

September of 1959 brought Herbert’s church membership to West End Methodist Church, where he served as the organist and choir director. He enjoyed a very close relationship with the church pastors as well as the church members. He was a Sunday school teacher in the Dean Cornelius Class. In 1960, he was consecrated and certified as a Minister of Music at the Virginia Annual Conference of The Methodist Church. He retired with the title of Minister of Music Emeritus at West End United Methodist Church after 32 years.

In 1986, he began mini-concerts at eight local nursing homes. From 1986 to 1999, he played 4,225 piano concerts for their residents. In September 2002 he became a resident at the Churchland House and played for his fellow residents up until Jan. 27, 2006.

Herbert was a man of many talents. He was a "participating member" of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). He composed 11 cantatas, numerous anthems, arranged compositions for his church choirs, and co-wrote an anthem "God Will Answer Prayer" with his father. Herbert taught more than 150,000 music lessons in 44 years (which included lessons for more than 100 area church organists). He presented hundreds of local radio and TV programs and taught Sunday school for 40 years. His faith in God was enormous.

On Jan. 29, 1985, he wrote a song that he requested be sung (and it was) at his funeral. It is titled "Jesus Christ Rules Over My World."

Herbert summed up his life when he wrote: "I’m proud to be an American. I’m proud to be a Christian. I’m proud to be a Stewart. I’m proud to be a gentleman. I’m proud to be a Child of God. I’m proud to be a Methodist. I’m proud to be a vet. I’m proud to be a church organist. I’m just about one of the proudest humans alive, and a son of a gun."


— Ann Stewart




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Background photos courtesy of VDOT.

The Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church
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