Son Of State’s First Licensed Pilot Is Penning Memoir

Dave Stewart grew up hearing people tell stories of his legendary father, Alton Stewart. The youngest son of North Carolina’s first licensed aviator remembers sitting on his father’s lap not long before Alton Stewart died in a Christmas day plane crash in Dunn in 1929.

Nearly a century and a lifetime full of adventures traveling the globe later, Dave Stewart is ready to tell his own story. Stewart, 95, lives in Raleigh and currently is working on a new book called “Looking Back” highlighting his own exploits as a pilot and globetrotter.

“I’ve been all over the world, everywhere you could possibly go,” Stewart said. “I’ve had an interesting career and met a lot of famous people. I kept a lot of notes for my book, which will also talk a lot about my father.”

The Stewart family briefly lived in Dunn following Alton’s untimely death. Dave Stewart can remember Orville Wright, who signed Alton’s pilot license, staying in their Coats home and days spent walking back and forth from Benson and Dunn. Alton was known for never losing a race in the sky and trained hundreds of aspiring pilots. He knew Charles Lindberg and flew around the likes of Will Rogers and the Dupont family.

Stories of his father’s exploits help forge the man Dave wanted to be.

“[Alton] became a very famous pilot,” said Dave Stewart. “I knew I was going to be a pilot. That was my desire.”

Dave Stewart eventually ended up in Durham before enlisting in the service during World War II. He became a pilot but never had to go overseas as the war in Europe ended before he got the call. With the war over, Stewart returned home and enrolled in North Carolina State University. Before he graduated, however, an opportunity in sales presented itself and proved too good to pass up.

“I went into the air corps,” Dave Stewart said. “I was out west getting ready to go over to Europe, but they had already won the war. They shipped us over to this base where I got my commercial pilot license. I finished my junior year at State and went to Lousiville.”

Kentucky introduced Stewart to the Kirby Company, a vacuum cleaner manufacturer. He started in sales before eventually getting his own franchise in 1973. He turned down an offer to be president of the company after becoming the largest Kirby distributor in the world.

“I decided to come back to Raleigh,” said Stewart. “I met a lot of fine people and made really good money. But there was a lot of travel involved. You were never home.”

Stewart continued to pursue his passion for flying. Like his father before him, Dave Stewart loved traveling the friendly skies. His journeys took him to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France and China. He sat in front of the Taj Mahal with his wife, Corrine, and paid a visit to the Louvre in Paris.

“I’ve been just about everywhere there is to go,” Stewart said. “I’ve had a wonderful life. The Lord has really blessed me. I’m a very fortunate person.”

Sound financial decisions allowed Stewart to acquire large amounts of real estate that he manages in retirement. He came to Raleigh in the early 1950s with $600 in his pocket and now owns multiple properties, both in Raleigh and at the coast.

Stewart still is in the early stages of his book. With a family history like his, there are a lot of stories to tell.

-The Daily Record