True Southern ladies are a rare breed. One of Cordova's left this world last week.
This week I'm reprinting an article from 2010 on Elaine Stewart, who passed away March 21 after a long, valiant battle with cancer.
Elaine was the city clerk when I started covering Cordova in 2008. That council and that tiny room in the back of City Hall where they met will always hold a special place in my heart. Keeping that bunch of characters and what little business there was to be done back then straight was no small task, but Elaine did.
A lot of us call Cordova home; Elaine was one of those handful of people who embodied the best of it:
Elaine Stewart is one of the most recognizable women in Cordova. She has been a fixture at City Hall for 25 years.
Stewart is a Blue Devil through and through, as are her children and grandchildren.
Yet Cordova is Stewart’s adopted hometown. She was raised in Parrish, the city’s nearby football rival.
Stewart moved to Cordova in 1967 after marrying a local boy. They had two daughters together, Leanne and Phillina.
Stewart said her children helped change her football allegiances during Cordova-Parrish games.
“When we first got married, I wouldn’t sit on either side. I’d sit in the middle. When Leanne became a Toy Bowl cheerleader, of course I had to side with my child,” Stewart said.
Stewart took a job with Cordova Water and Gas Board in 1985. After six and a half years, she worked at Drummond Glass Company for a year before returning in 1992 as city clerk.
Her tenure as city clerk has lasted through seven mayors, including current mayor Jack Scott.
“He’s the hardest working mayor we’ve ever had,” Stewart said.
Stewart said Scott treats all of the city’s employees well and has shown special concern for her since she was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 2007.
“If he knows I’m here by myself, he’ll tell me, ‘If you get sick and need to go home, just lock this place up and go home.’ Not many people would tell you that,” Stewart said.
As city clerk, Stewart takes care of the accounting, filing and minutes from council meetings.
Stewart said she is thankful for technology that has changed the job since the days when minutes were handwritten.
“They had the most beautiful handwriting. Mine is horrible. It’s a good thing we have computers now,” Stewart said.
Stewart used to work on payroll for two and a half days. Now the task only takes two hours.
The town itself has also changed quite a bit since Stewart joined city government.
Grant money has been used to improve the city’s water and sewer services, fix up the old Armory and tear down old houses that were a blight on the city’s appearance.
The opening of Corridor X has also revived hope for Cordova’s future.
“I never thought I’d live to see us with a major interstate,” Stewart said.
Stewart has cut back her hours at City Hall since she has been battling cancer.
She approached Scott one day and asked to become a part-time employee.
“I felt like it wasn’t fair to the city or part-time employees who were working more hours than me at one point for me to stay full-time and get all the benefits,” Stewart said.
Now Stewart works as her health allows, which sometimes is over 30 hours a week.
Stewart’s daughter, Leanne Dawkins, fills in as needed. Dawkins is the assistant city clerk and court clerk magistrate.
Stewart said the two have always worked well together. She only remembers one disagreement since Dawkins joined the city in 1990 as magistrate.
“She got aggravated with me one day. I didn’t like that too much, but she’s my daughter and I love her,” Stewart said.
In three years, Stewart has gone through remission once for nine months. Although more chemotherapy treatments are in her future, she keeps her spirits up by focusing on blessings instead of challenges.
“I’m in a win-win situation. I can’t lose as long as I’ve got God on my side,” she said.
Stewart said she has thought about leaving Cordova only once, after her divorce from her first husband. She briefly considered moving to Tennessee.
Then she realized that she was already home.
“I have really grown to love this town. The people make the town, and there are a lot of good people in Cordova,” Stewart said.