Dr. Waldaba Stewart, former New York State senator, community activist and educator, dies at 85

Dr. Waldaba Stewart. Rey Allen
Dr. Waldaba Stewart.
Rey Allen

Dr. Waldaba Stewart, a Panamanian-born former New York State senator, community activist and educator, died on Jan. 1 in Manhattan, according to Rey Allen, president of the Brooklyn-based Southern Diaspora Research and Development Coalition (SDRDC), of which Dr. Stewart was co-founder.

Allen said Dr. Stewart – who worked closely with the late Dr. George Irish at the Caribbean Research Center at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College and who was also an adjunct professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Science at the college in Crown Heights – died in Manhattan of natural causes. He was 85.

“Community, tradition, heritage and social justice were the hallmarks of Dr. Stewart’s public and private life for more than four decades,” said Allen in a statement on Friday.

He said Dr. Stewart, who had represented the 18th New York Senate District in Brooklyn, was born on Jan. 15, 1936, in the Panama Canal Zone, the eldest of six brothers and one sister.

Allen, also a close friend of Dr. Stewart, said Dr. Stewart’s father was a teacher, a minister and a supervising administrator.

He said the young Stewart graduated ahead of his peers with an associate of arts degree from Canal Zone Junior College in 1955 and studied governmental science at Panama National University.

Still a teenager, Allen said Stewart migrated to Brooklyn, and received a bachelor of arts degree in languages from Pace University in 1963, and a master’s degree in education from Hunter College in 1966 – all while working nights at Bathe & Co., a brokerage firm.

Stewart then received his Ph.D. in economics from Union Institute and University.

Allen said Dr. Stewart taught public school from 1957 to 1966, and, in 1968, with his brothers by his side as campaign managers, he was elected by a landslide to the New York State Senate, “where he was honored to serve for four years.”

As senator, Dr. Stewart served as New York State chairman of the first national Black political convention held in Gary, Indiana, Allen said.

He said Dr. Stewart also sponsored legislation in health for “the improvement of quality care for the poor and underserved communities in Brooklyn, through the creation and development of the Mid-Brooklyn Health Association, Inc. and the Mid-Brooklyn Health Society.”

After his tenure as New York State Senator, Allen said Dr. Stewart became an adjunct professor at Medgar Evers College.

“Committed to his community and public service, he founded the Mid-Brooklyn Health Association, which delivered health-care services to the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Fort Greene and Williamsburg,” Allen said.

“He was also integral in the campaign for the $100 million restoration and modernization of Kings County Hospital, completed in 2002,” he added.

Allen said Dr. Steward was also a founding member of the corporation that converted the Brooklyn Navy Yard into an industrial park.

In 1996, Allen said Dr. Stewart co-founded SDRDC with his wife, Esmeralda Brown-Stewart, who was president, while he served as chairman.

Dr. Owen Brown, a former chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Science at Medgar Evers College, said Dr. Stewart “was loved by his students and was an asset to his community.

“Like his wife, he toiled endlessly as an equal rights advocate to defend the downtrodden and powerless,” Dr. Brown told Caribbean Life on Sunday. “Dr. Stewart’s lived experiences, indeed, embodied Mary Eliza Church-Terrell’s ‘Lifting as We Climb’”.

Dr. Stewart is survived by his daughter, Zulane Stewart, as well as several siblings and grandchildren.

Funeral service was held at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, on Jan. 13.

Dr. Stewart will be laid to rest on Friday, Jan. 14, beside his wife, Esmeralda, at Trinity Episcopal Church Mausoleum in Manhattan.

In lieu of flowers, Allen said contributions may be directed to the Southern Diaspora Research and Development Coalition, Inc., “a non-profit organization, to continue the work of Esmeralda and Dr. Waldaba Stewart as a voice for people of African descent and the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.:

Mailing Address: Southern Diaspora Research and Development Coalition, 68 Rodgers Ave., Brooklyn, New York 11216; e-mail: Southerncaucus17@gmail.com; tel.: 718-328-1726.