Tyler Stewart (White)
December 8, 1921 March 4, 2013
Helen Tyler Stewart (White)
died from complications of Alzheimer's disease. She was an accomplished
woman: Nevada civil rights leader, artist, mother, teacher, political
activist, proud member of the NAACP and ACLU, and founding member of
the Unitarian Fellowship in Reno.
Born in Witt, Illinois, to the Reverend John T. Stewart and
Inez Stewart, this spirited middle child of five spent her childhood
swimming and playing in the woods near Bonne Terre, Missouri, revealing
the fearsome spirit that translated into social activism and creative
adventure in adulthood.
At 16 she entered Washington
University in St. Louis, Missouri and received her degree in fine arts.
She was the youngest in her class, and the only woman.
She married John Aaron White (1917-2003) at the beginning of
WWII. After the war, they briefly joined John's family in farming near
Sikeston, Missouri, but soon were raising laying hens on Carroll Acres,
in middle Tennessee.
By the time they had five
children, they were determined to escape the stultifying racism of the
South and moved to Washington State. After a few years, John joined
the Soil Conservation Service, bringing the White family to Wells, Nevada,
to Reno, to Wadsworth & Fernley, and to Reno again.
Helen returned to school
at the University of Nevada, Reno to get her teaching certificate after
which she taught kindergarten and first grade at Natchez School in Nixon.
She happily stowed away all the "Dick and Jane" books and
instead had the children write their own stories. Most became wonderful
In the early days of her marriage, Helen was the epitome of the "good
farm wife" gardening, canning and freezing fruit and vegetables,
killing chickens and rabbits, baking bread, making wholesome meals and
mothering her children in a seemingly effortless way.
By the Sixties, the civil
rights movement, and later the women's movement, were in full swing
and Helen was deeply committed to both.
She joined others in sit-ins,
letter-writing campaigns, and other anti-discrimination activities,
and encouraged her children's political activism as well.
In recognition of her hard
work and commitment, she was invited by Governor Grant Sawyer
to join other civil rights activists as he signed the Civil Rights Act
At 50 and divorced after 25 years of marriage, she moved to San Francisco
where she taught and inspired "high risk" elementary students.
At 60, she left teaching
to open one of the first bed and breakfast inns in San Francisco, the
Union Street Inn.
After two fruitful, happy decades in San Francisco, Helen returned to
Reno and filled her life with friends and family, her love of reading,
especially The New Yorker and The Nation, politics, gardening,
and walking her dogs with her friend Evelyn Dees. She always
had the coffee pot on and there was always room for another person at
the dinner table.
Helen is survived by her brother, John T. Stewart, her five children
John, Mary, Holly, Stewart (Patricia) and Geoffrey
(Sally), all of Reno.
She also leaves behind her children's families, including 15 grandchildren
and three great-grandchildren as well as several nieces.
Her family remembers her
for her courage, her powerful sense of right and wrong, her unwillingness
to be thwarted by social expectations, and her desire to make the world
a more beautiful, just, and peaceful place.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Reno-Sparks
NAACP or the Unitarian Fellowship of Reno.
A memorial service will be
held at the Unitarian Fellowship in Reno, 780 Del Monte Lane, at 3 p.m.
on Saturday, March 9.
Published in Reno Gazette-Journal from March 6
to March 7, 2013.