“The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton,” the British are fond of saying.
Paraphrasing this British aphorism, Brad Stewart of Williamsburg, now serving as associate vice president investment officer at the Optimal Service Group of Wells Fargo Advisers, could say, “I won my college education on the playing fields of William and Mary.”
Stewart, who grew up south of Pittsburgh, was a descendant of a long line of steelworkers.
“I was determined to go to college somehow,” he said in a recent interview with the Gazette. “I knew that my path to education would be fulfilled either through the military or by an academic or athletic scholarship. I focused on the athletic side, as I enjoyed football and had a natural affinity for football and shot put. I felt confident that one of these sports would open doors for me, and both did. Football presented the best opportunities and allowed me to attend a better school than I ever thought possible.”
In high school, Stewart was captain of the football team, and in his junior and senior year was the shot put champion of Western Pennsylvania. He was recruited by Bucknell University for shot put, a great honor, but the drawback was the school did not offer athletic scholarships,
“I still remember vividly how Bob Solderitch, William and Mary’s offensive line coach, tapped me on the shoulder while I was eating lunch in my high school cafeteria. He wanted to talk to me about a school named William and Mary. I must admit, I didn’t know a thing about the school. But, we had a nice conversation and it changed my future,” Stewart said.
Stewart received a full athletic scholarship and was co-captain of the team his senior year with Derek Cox, who went on to an NFL career. “I often say that is my only claim to football fame,” Stewart noted with a smile.
I asked Stewart about college.
“The college was a fantastic place,” he said. “A diverse place. I felt very comfortable on campus, but I had no idea just how difficult it would be academically. There were certain subjects that I struggled with. But my professors were always helpful. I could see the passion that they had for their fields, and I fed off that energy in my studies.”
Stewart developed a desire to get into the banking/finance world. The football coach talked about one of his former players, Joe Montgomery, who became the head of a large financial advisory firm and made sure that every year each offensive lineman had custom fit knee braces.
“It is amazing that Joe was able to come from William and Mary and be successful enough to give back to the program that he graduated from,” Stewart said. “I got to know Joe over the course of my career and saw that passion and energy that he puts into his business and professional education, and I decided to do that for myself.”
Considering the hurdles that Stewart had to overcome, I asked him what advice he had for young people who wish to attend college but face difficulties similar to those he did.
“Find out what your strengths are and how you can build on those strengths,” he said. “Then work on your weaknesses and continue to develop those areas. And don’t be afraid to ask for help in achieving your goal. Without the help of my athletic coaches and my professors at the college, spending more than a few of their office hours with me, I would have never lasted as a student. I am so grateful to all those people who have helped me along my journey thus far.”
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.