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Sugar Land’s Steve Stewart Lives and Breathes
a Love of Words

Steve Stewart and a musician friend. (Photo - Mara Soloway)

Steve Stewart and a musician friend. (Photo – Mara Soloway)

His Works Span Plays, Music And Professional Communications

By Mara Soloway

Coming from a family of educators and communicators, Steve Stewart grew up with a love of words and storytelling. Those language talents have fueled his 33-year career in public relations and journalism and also his creative pursuits of writing short stories, plays, songs and comedy sketches.

Steve, 55, regularly earns recognition for both his vocation and avocations. In June, he received the Houston Press Club’s statewide Lone Star Award for “Communicator of the Year” for his breadth of work and responsibility at Enbridge Energy, where he is U.S. corporate communications manager. And his new play, Teacher of the Year, is one of the 10 plays selected for this year’s Scriptwriters/ Houston’s annual 10×10 Showcase of short plays. The production opens on Sept. 15-24 at The Pearl Theatre in Pearland on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It will be his sixth play in the Scriptwriters/Houston event and his 25th play to be produced for the stage.

Steve and his wife Patty Martin Stewart, a registered dietician/nutritionist, live in Sugar Creek, which has been an enclave for the close-knit Stewart family since they moved to the neighborhood from New Orleans in 1980. His parents Tom and Pat, and his sister Lyn, who also works in corporate communications, all live in Sugar Creek. His brother Andy, who owns Finish Line Sport, and his family have ventured out of the neighborhood into New Territory.

“Our family fondly recalls how we arrived in Sugar Land as ‘pioneers’ in our old Impala sedan with a luggage rack on top stuffed with our suitcases driving into the nice, new Sugar Creek subdivision,” Steve said. His dad worked in corporate communications for Shell Oil in New Orleans, and a job promotion brought the family to Sugar Creek.

Instead of moving here full-time with his parents, Steve went to Louisiana State University, where he earned a degree in 1983 in journalism with a concentration in public relations. A strong influence on his writing was his journalism professor, the late, Pulitzer-Prize winning newspaper journalist James Featherston, who told his classes what sets writers apart: “Inside most people are stories, which is probably where they should stay. Except for writers — real writers, who reach down deep, do the work and tell a story for the rest of us to consume, learn and be entertained by.”

But even before Featherston, Steve’s innate feel for storytelling was nurtured when he was young by his paternal grandmother. “I started writing short stories when I was a little boy. Grandma Kay was a wonderful advocate of my writing,” he said. “I read from my notebooks of stories to her at night, and she would listen to everything and tell me what she liked. She was a great audience and very encouraging, and she’d also teach me grammar rules.”

Winning the Houston Press Club award was an emotional homage to his father. “My dad is my mentor and the finest person I know. When I won, he held the award at our banquet table, smiled and said, ‘Son, now that is one fine award.’ He was quite proud, and that made it all worthwhile.” Tom Stewart worked for 37 years at Shell and is a PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) Fellow.

During the summers of 1980 and 1981, Steve spent time getting to know Sugar Land better as an intern with now-defunct The Fort Bend Mirror. The editor who hired him, Julie Fix, liked Steve’s enthusiasm and nicknamed him “Cubby,” as in cub reporter. Julie is now part of UH’s Valenti School of Communication. She is also a PRSA Fellow.

“When I was news editor of The Fort Bend Mirror, we didn’t get many bright, talented college students applying for internships. Steve’s clips showed writing talent, and he was willing to work at a manual typewriter on a card table for the pittance we paid him.  It was a no-brainer to hire him,” Julie said. Steve recalled that the office set-up had its challenges, the biggest being that the card table would collapse every fourth or fifth time he hit the return bar on the typewriter.

Julie thought he was and is a very good writer. “But I think his people-pleasing personality has contributed as much to his success as his skill with words and punctuation. He’s witty, quippy and just easy to be around. He’s also loyal and willing to do whatever a boss needs — even mowing his boss’ lawn, as he did mine once or twice during his Mirror employment.”

While at LSU, Steve worked as a feature writer for the Sunday Magazine supplement to the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate newspaper. He was promised a job after graduating from LSU in 1983, but a week before he was to start work, the newspaper owners folded the afternoon State Times edition and cut half of the newsroom staff. He moved back to Sugar Land where, after working for a short time as a substitute English teacher with Fort Bend ISD, he landed his first PR job with Computer Craft. He said his first real corporate communications job started a year later, when he began working at Coca Cola Foods.

In the ensuing years, he has also worked in health care (including as marketing/communications manager for Methodist Hospital Sugar Land when the health facility first opened in the late 1990s), oil and gas, and with the City of Sugar Land. Since 2008, he has been with Calgary-based Enbridge; Houston is the U.S. headquarters. His responsibilities include internal and external communications, media relations, executive communications, and branding and advertising. The Enbridge Houston public affairs and communications staff includes about 14 people with about two dozen more across the U.S.

“We have a great team. I sincerely feel the best way to manage is to simply hire really talented people and alleviate their obstacles to success,” he said.

His playwriting also took shape while he was at LSU. Steve took a playwriting course from a fairly brusque professor who had sold a couple of screenplays to Hollywood and gave him the only A in the class. “He told me ‘you have what it takes to make it as a screenplay writer or playwright and you should go to Hollywood and give it a shot.’ ” But Steve moved back to Sugar Land, and with a couple of plays in his portfolio, got involved with Houston Press Club’s legendary Gridiron Show, which parodies the year’s news stories in comedy sketches and reworded popular songs. It is put on by journalists and PR people and raises money for students needing financial assistance.

Steve became a head writer and a cast member, then later the show’s producer for four years. This year’s show is tentatively slated for Oct. 15 at the Match Theater in Midtown Houston. Steve is still a cast member and productive writer for the show.

The Gridiron experiences further sparked his passion for writing plays, especially comedies. “There are proven techniques for writing comedy. I became fascinated by how to make people laugh through my writing,” Steve said. He studied books on comedy writing as well as the legends of comedy such as Jack Benny, the Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks and the original writers at Saturday Night Live. “I learned some of the techniques they employed, such as misdirection, word play, and milking a theme or joke three or four times in a comedy piece.”

But not all his plays are strictly humorous. The play being presented at the 10×10 Showcase, Teacher of the Year, revolves around the psychological twists of a young man at his 10-year reunion who seeks out a female teacher with whom he had an inappropriate relationship during high school. “It’s a psychological drama with the two characters revisiting their sordid affair while trying to manipulate each other,” Steve said.

Steve is also proud of his recent “dramedy” (a comedy/drama mix) called Last Ride of the Iron Angels about four middle-aged female friends from college who take a motorcycle trip together. As they begin to share how their lives are going, the audience learns all is not well. He draws each character out, letting each one tell their own story.

“They are funny, strong, fascinating women. But, like most, they have their vulnerabilities. The plot of the play shows the challenges that all four have gone through, but it’s not a downer by any means. In fact, audiences at Theater Southwest in Houston cheered for them each night,” he said.

His storytelling process begins when he finds an interesting idea that he feels confident enough to put out there for all to see. “When I have an intriguing idea, I write a first draft of a play fairly fast,” Steve said.

Patty gets to read Steve’s work before anyone else. She is honest with her opinions and reactions, which he appreciates. “He is an exceptional playwright. After reading one of his new plays, I typically like to ask him questions about the plot and the characters, and we have a very interesting discussion about the piece,” she said. “Steve is a very confident writer so he never gets offended if I am not sold on some aspect of his play.”

For now, Steve says playwriting is a hobby because he is focusing his communication talents on his busy day job with Enbridge. “One day, I hope to be more of a full-time playwright,” he said. “I like creativity. It’s a fulfilling outlet.”

Steve and Patty at their Aug. 1, 2015 wedding in New Orleans. (Photo - Carrere Photography)

Steve and Patty at their Aug. 1, 2015 wedding in New Orleans. (Photo – Carrere Photography)

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