Johnston County Commissioner Wade Stewart, 68, has died.
Stewart, who had served on the board since December 1998, was found dead in his home in Four Oaks this morning.
Stewart was an important figure in the county during its population boom. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Johnston’s population grew from about 122,000 in 2000 to more than 172,000 in 2011. Stewart was vice chairman of the board from 2004 to 2008 and chairman from 2008 to 2010.
Under his leadership, the county built new schools in the Four Oaks, Clayton, Benson and Cleveland communities. He oversaw expansion of the county’s Emergency Medical Services department, which now serves Johnston’s largest towns in addition to rural communities. He sat on the advisory board for EMS and social services.
Stewart, a veteran of the Vietnam War, was also an advocate for Johnston veterans. He spearheaded the effort to establish the county’s Veterans Services Advisory Board, which brings together leaders of local veterans’ groups and supports the county’s Veterans Services Office.
Commissioner Tony Braswell – also a Vietnam veteran – said he and Stewart bonded over their war service, even though they often disagreed on issues facing the board of commissioners.
“We did sometimes trade some stories about that,” Braswell said. “He was always willing to seek help for veterans for any cause. Veterans have lost a great advocate.”
Other board members could not be reached for comment on Monday. But Braswell said he and the rest of the board were shocked by Stewart’s death.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking to all of us; we’re like a family together,” Braswell said. “He was a great friend and a great servant for the people.”
County Manager Rick Hester, who had worked closely with Stewart since Stewart’s election in 1998, issued the following statement about his death:
“He enjoyed being a county commissioner because he loved helping people,” Hester said. “We will miss him very much.”
Stewart represented District 3 on the Board of Commissioners, serving an area that stretched from Four Oaks to the Johnston-Sampson line.
Outside of county government, Stewart was president of Keener Lumber Co. He was a 1966 graduate of Campbell University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English. He was a son of the late Herman M. and Velma Lou Holland Stewart.
Arrangements are by Rose & Graham Funeral Home in Four Oaks.