CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The mayor of New Martinsville met Bill Stewart in the former West Virginia football coach's earliest days at Magnolia High School.
Lucille Blum said Monday that she won't soon forget Stewart's impact on the riverfront town, nor will the ties that bound her to Stewart soon be severed.
"My nephew, Rob Fauber, is married to his sister-in-law, little Gretchen (Kacor), so I knew him in a family way," said Blum, who called Stewart's sudden passing a "tragic day for New Martinsville," which was Stewart's hometown.
"He has always been the kindest, most gentle man. For all the talent he had in athletics, he always tried to say what was the most kind and helpful thing."
Stewart graduated from Magnolia in 1970, seven years after Blum began her career as a teacher there.
"I've known him forever, as a part of the community. I know, speaking for the city of New Martinsville that there was the greatest love here for Bill Stewart."
The Wetzel County seat with a population of just under 6,000, New Martinsville still displays signs at its northern and southern entrances along W.Va. 2 and its eastern entrance along W.Va. 7 that mark the town as Stewart's point of origin. He was born there in 1952.
The outpouring of grief wasn't relegated to the boundaries of Stewart's hometown Monday. Wetzel County natives took to social media in full force throughout the day and evening with their expressions of emotion, as well as pride.
"There's a lot of sadness right now, but there are also a lot of positive emotions of people that are being displayed as well. Bill Stewart was a man that had such a positive attitude on everything," said New Martinsville native and Walsh University assistant sports information director Logan Smith.
"I feel very thankful, blessed, honored, proud, whatever words you want to use, to call New Martinsville my hometown and to have graduated from Magnolia," Smith said. "Part of that is because of Bill Stewart. It's not often, especially in West Virginia, where you can have such a strong role model right in your hometown."
Magnolia baseball coach, and the Blue Eagles' football coach from 1979-98, Dave Cisar said Stewart was a rare breed of person. Cisar learned of Stewart's death just before Magnolia's Class AA Region 1 baseball semifinal against Oak Glen on Monday, a game won by Magnolia, 6-2.
"I never coached him. He was gone before I took over, but he never forgot where he came from and a lot of people, you can't say that about," Cisar said. "Bill Stewart was a real good, personal friend of mine. There are few coaches on any level, especially at the big time, who would cross the street to say hello to you, and he was always would."
Blum recalled when Stewart was named head coach following the Mountaineers' surprise win over Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, noting the outpouring of pride and support that emanated from the community.
"There was a huge banquet for him, and we could not answer all of the requests for tickets," she said. "We just couldn't, there were so many requests. We couldn't fill them all. He was so happy to be in New Martinsville and to talk about the prospects for the future."