Updated: November 4, 2013
In the early days of his career as a physician in the tiny town of Falconer, New York, Alvin Johnson Stewart would ride out in his horse and buggy to help women deliver their babies. According to family lore, if the baby came in the middle of the night, Stewart would finish up his work, climb into the buggy, slap the reins, then lie down and go to sleep as his horse walked home over the familiar roads. His wife would find him in the carriage house the next morning, fast asleep in the wagon.
Stewart was born September 7, 1886, in Port Byron, N.Y. His father, Alvin Daniel Stewart, had graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1876 and was a renowned physician in the Port Byron area.
Educated in the public schools of his hometown, Stewart knew early on that he wanted to be a doctor, like his father. After graduating from high school in 1903, he took a job as a librarian in the New York City offices of the New York Central Railroad and for the next three years, worked hard and saved money for his education. In the fall of 1906, he entered the medical school of the University of Syracuse. In 1910, he earned his medical degree and married Elizabeth K. Hest, who had grown up with him in Port Byron. After a year of internship at the City Hospital of Rochester, Stewart and his wife moved to Falconer, just east of Lake Chatauqua, near the Pennsylvania border. And for the rest of his life, he was the quintessential "small-town doctor", devoted to the care of the people of Falconer and nearby town of Jamestown.
The Stewarts' only child, a daughter they named Jean, was born in 1916.
With the outbreak of World War I, Stewart signed up to serve. In 1918, he spent six weeks at Camp Greenleaf, Georgia, in the Medical Officers' Training Camp after which he was assigned to escort detachment duty in New Jersey. For the next year, he criss-crossed the country on a hospital train service, meeting incoming transports laden with sick and wounded soldiers, caring from them en route to hospital camps. Said a 1921 article about him, "it was a wonderful field of service for a man of Dr. Stewart's ability and kindness of heart, giving him a great opportunity for further experience."
Stewart practiced out of his home, an old farmhouse on Falconer's Main Street. As the years passed, horse and buggy were replaced by automobiles - much to the chagrin of Elizabeth Stewart who worried about her husband falling asleep at the wheel during those late-night journeys home. In his spare time, Stewart was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed trap and skeet shooting and fishing in the area's many lakes and rivers. As his practice grew, he indulged himself with "a Cadillac every year," says his grandson, John Johns, of Ann Arbor. "That was the only thing he could spend money on," he laughs. "There wasn't anything else there!"
Johns recalls childhood trips to visit his grandparents. "I remember playing in my grandfather's office. It was filled with scales and big, brown glass bottles filled with medications," he says. He describes his grandfather as "quiet and reserved". His grandmother, he says, was "very proper" - a classically trained musician who served as the organist in Falconer's First Methodist Church. Both the Stewarts loved classical music and were frequent visitors to concerts at the famed Chatauqua Institute not far from their home.
Jean Stewart grew up in Falconer then graduated from Allegheny College. She was a graduate student at Simmons College in Boston when she met Lester Johns, a young man from Detroit who was enrolled at the Harvard Business School. The couple married and settled in Newcastle, Pennsylvania, where their only son, John, was born. In the 1960s the Johns family moved to Ann Arbor - where Jean's grandfather had studied medicine nearly a century before.
Lester Johns spent many years working in Plymouth as general manager of several divisions of a major automobile parts manufacturing company. Jean Johns worked in retail and as a housewife. Both were involved in many Ann Arbor-area clubs and organizations.
When Dr. Stewart died in 1967, his wife, Elizabeth, moved to Ann Arbor to live with her daughter and son-in-law. She very much enjoyed her final years here, says her grandson, taking advantage of the city's cultural riches and making new friends. Elizabeth Hest Stewart died in Ann Arbor in 1974.
A year before Jean's death in 1993, Lester and Jean Johns approached the U-M Medical School to see about establishing a scholarship fund that would serve as an enduring memorial to Jean's father and his many years spent caring for the people of his community. Today, the Alvin Johnson Stewart, M.D. Fellowship in Family Practice supports the training of graduate family practice physicians in the U-M Medical School Department of Family Practice.