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STEWART, JAMES O., JR.

James O. Stewart, Jr. (1934–2016).
James O. Stewart, Jr., businessman and civic leader in El Paso, was a strong supporter of the arts and charities in the city. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
James O. Stewart as a Senior at El Paso High School
James O. Stewart as a Senior at El Paso High School. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

STEWART, JAMES O., JR. (1934–2016). James O. Stewart, Jr., businessman and pioneer in the waste management industry, civic leader, philanthropist, and musician, was born to James O. and Florine L. Stewart on November 25, 1934, in Doña Ana County, New Mexico. By 1940 the Stewart family had relocated to El Paso, where James learned to play the piano and began a habit of practicing every day, which continued throughout his life. In 1953 he graduated from El Paso High School, where he performed piano duets during school talent assemblies and was a member of the Masque and Gavel Society, Future Farmers of America, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, Radio Club, and student council. He studied business and theology as an undergraduate at Baylor University and spent two years in the Unites States Air Force.

Stewart was a devoted Baptist and longtime member of Coronado Baptist Church in El Paso, where he directed Christian music programs. During a trip to Detroit he overheard his future wife Marlene singing in a church choir. The two fell in love and married in Michigan in August 1965. The couple moved to Los Angeles, California, where Stewart worked on a master’s degree in music at the University of Southern California. In 1968 Stewart served as the minister of music at Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego, California. That same year the couple welcomed a son, James O. Stewart III. They moved to El Paso in 1970. Stewart supported the Arts Institute at the Methodist Church, where children learned performing arts. His efforts helped train more than 600 children (many of whom then performed at the Chamizal Theatre) in dance and other art forms at St. Joseph’s Church summer program.  

El Paso Disposal Logo
El Paso Disposal Logo. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
El Adobe Recording Studio in El Paso
El Adobe Recording Studio in El Paso. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Stewart borrowed $5,000 from a friend to open El Paso Disposal in 1970. With only a single other employee, Stewart drove a rented truck himself. The company grew from a local business focused on hauling waste into one of the largest operations in the Southwest. In 1980 he opened El Adobe Recording Studio in an old nightclub building. The group Lynyrd Skynyrd was his first client and spent nearly two months recording songs. Through the years, various artists from different musical genres recorded at the studio. The Stewarts shaped El Paso with their enduring support of art, multiple charities, and classical music—especially the El Paso Symphony Orchestra and El Paso Pro-Musica. They donated funding for scholarships at the University of Texas at El Paso, religious institutions, and cultural groups.

Stewart earned the respect of officials and representatives on both sides of the political aisle, and he hosted a fundraiser in 1993 for Republican gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush at his home. By 1999 El Paso Disposal had grown to more than 300 employees prior to being sold to Waste Connections Incorporated for more than $100 million. 

James O. Stewart, Jr. and wife Marlene.
James O. Stewart, Jr., and wife Marlene maintained a strong devotion to music. The El Paso Symphony Orchestra dedicated its 2014-15 season to the Stewarts in celebration of their longtime support. Photograph by Melody Parra. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Rotary Club of El Paso Honors James O. Stewart
Rotary Club of El Paso Honors James O. Stewart. Courtesy of El Paso Inc. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In 2001 the Stewarts furthered their philanthropy by establishing the Marlene and J. O. Stewart Jr. Foundation. They donated ten acres of land for Texas Tech University’s Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso. The Stewarts were among nine people named El Pasoans of the Year by El Paso Inc. in 2003.

The El Paso Symphony Orchestra dedicated its 2014–15 season to the Stewarts in celebration of nearly twenty-five years of support. Throughout retirement, James continued to play his grand piano and operate his recording studio, while Marlene served on the Ballet of El Paso board, Lydia Patterson Institute board, and El Paso Symphony board for over twenty years.

James O. Stewart, Jr., died on January 27, 2016, from a heart attack at his home. Funeral services were held at First Baptist Church on February 4, 2016. The Rotary Club of El Paso posthumously named Stewart recipient of the 2016 Distinguished Service Award.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Cindy Graff Cohen, “The Stewarts’ season: Symphony pays tribute to longtime supporters,” El Paso Inc., April 20, 2015 (http://www.elpasoinc.com/news/q_and_a/article_50b5eab8-e549-11e4-a4a9-ff9ec58a75cf.html), accessed May 24, 2017. El Paso Times, January 27, 2016; February 4, 2016; October 6, 2016. 

Brett J. Derbes

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Handbook of Texas Online, Brett J. Derbes, "Stewart, James O., Jr. ," accessed October 23, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fstew.

Uploaded on May 30, 2017. Modified on May 31, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.