His Favorite Talent
When Michael James Stewart came to New York 20 years ago, he joined the Old Blue rugby club, one of the best clubs on the East Coast. He was an immediate star, but some of the other players did not know what to make of him. "He looked like a skinny, little guy with crazy sideburns and a goatee, and he wore all black," recalled Greg Finn, a good friend and former teammate. "He looked like a punk rocker; he didn't look athletic. People looked at him and wondered, 'Who is this guy?' I think Michael enjoyed that. He believed you couldn't judge a book by its cover."
Mr. Stewart, 42, was not easy to figure out.
He was a Protestant born in Belfast, Ireland, but one of his best friends at the University of Stirling in Scotland was Catholic. He was a poetry major who later earned an M.B.A. He broke his nose, his ribs and his collar bone playing rugby, but was extremely gentle with his three sons. And he continued to wear earrings in both ears even as he worked in banking and finance, most recently at Carr Futures on the 92nd floor of 1 World Trade Center.
Despite Mr. Stewart's love for rugby and other sports, his love for his sons was greater. His fiancée, Kristin Galusha-Wild, said that once, on a car trip, she had asked him what talent he was most proud of. "Being a dad," he answered.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 11, 2001.
Michael James Stewart, 42, loved rugby
Michael James Stewart had his problems.
In 1994, his father and his grandfather died. Then he suffered a mental breakdown in 1997, growing distant from everyone, including his family, according to relatives and friends.
But there were special moments between the tragedies. He was a successful businessman, a proficient rugby player and a soccer dad to the hilt.
No one heard from Mr. Stewart the day he was killed in the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.
He was working for Carr Futures on the 93rd floor, believed to be the point of impact of the first plane.
Mr. Stewart was born June 20, 1959, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to William and Elizabeth Stewart.
"He grew up playing soccer in the streets," said Diana Stewart, his wife of 16 years.
While at Stirling University in Scotland in 1980, Mr. Stewart visited the United States and stayed with a host family in the Bronx. There he met his future wife, but went back to Stirling to finish his studies.
He returned to New York and married Diana Dominicci in October 1981.
It wasn't easy. Mr. Stewart didn't have a work visa so he sold plants, leaving his apartment in the East Village each day, traveling to Midtown to sell them, said Diana Stewart of Montclair.
"We were really young," she said, recalling the rough times.
Mr. Stewart also worked construction, or any other job he could get through a rugby team he had joined.
"A way for people, many immigrants, to get work is to hook up with the rugby team," Diana Stewart said.
"He wasn't that big, but he was a scrappy guy," said Bob Muzikowski, a Bayonne native who lives in Chicago. "He took a lot of punishment from some big guys."
Muzikowski and others shared their reflections at a memorial service for Mr. Stewart at Christ Church in Montclair in October.
When he wasn't on the field, Mr. Stewart was hustling in the business world.
After getting a work visa and more connections, Mr. Stewart landed an entry-level position at the Bank of Scotland in New York City. He then got jobs at Banque Indosuez, Credit Agricole and, most recently, Carr Futures.
In between jobs, he managed to get his MBA at Pepperdine University.
"He rose to the high level of banking," said Sy Henderson, senior vice president of growth markets for Fleet Bank. "His knowledge of finance just came naturally . . .
"I valued the time we spent," he added.
The two men met through their children, not banking.
Henderson's son Matthew is friends with Eamon and Francisco Stewart.
While living in El Segundo, Calif., Mr. Stewart coached Eamon, now 11, and Francisco, now 14, on soccer teams.
Mr. Stewart grew distant from his family about five years ago, Diana Stewart said. He was suffering post-traumatic stress and had medical problems due to three head injuries caused by a car accident and his lifelong love -- playing rugby.
"It was hard," she said.
Muzikowski said Mr. Stewart's good traits still stood out. He said he could always relate to Mr. Stewart. Muzikowski battled alcoholism but said he turned his life around, finding solace in creating an inner-city baseball league in Chicago.
Muzikowski's story was featured in the Keanu Reeves movie, "Hardball." The movie was based on Dan Coyle's book, also entitled "Hardball." Both attempted to depict Muzikowski's part in constructing the Little League program for under-privileged children.
So Muzikowski said he understood Mr. Stewart's battles with depression.
"Things didn't always go perfectly for him, but he was a tough guy," he said.
"He's missed and loved by the three of us," Diana Stewart said.
Profile by Nikita Stewart published in THE STAR-LEDGER.