Dr. Shelley Stewart added another award to his mantle this month when he received the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award Answers in Action Marketing Conference at the Harbert Center in downtown Birmingham.
A radio and advertising pioneer in Birmingham and founder of marketing firm o2ideas, Stewart said he was “blown away” by the recognition which was awarded by the Birmingham Chapter of the American Marketing Association’s Board of Directors on April 7.
“[Throughout] my life, I didn’t ever do anything for recognition. I did it because it was the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s one of the greatest awards I could have ever received from my hometown[.]”
Stewart quoted an old saying that summed up how he felt.
“Someone said, ‘Give me my flowers while I yet live so I can see the beauty that they bring,’” he said. “Being alive, being in this industry as long as I have, being able to be there and to see the individuals that were there [and] smell the roses, I’m just really grateful.
Stewart, 82, was born in 1934 and raised in Rosedale, an African American neighborhood south of downtown Birmingham. Stewart graduated school with honors, and, unable to attend college, spent two years in the Air Force before returning to Birmingham and starting his career with WEDR Radio. His 55-year career in radio would earn him the distinction of becoming the longest-running radio talent in the nation.
At WEDR, Stewart was able to work with musical acts including B.B. King, James Brown, Lou Rawls and Isaac Hayes. He also became known as a calming voice during the Civil Rights Movement, earning him national recognition and an audience that included both black and white listeners. Stewart’s influence during the Civil Rights Movement was cemented when, after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, Stewart helped Dr. Martin Luther King coordinate the Children’s March.
In 2008, Stewart finally acquired full ownership of the Steiner Bressler advertising agency which is now known as o2ideas.
Despite the national and local accolades, Stewart remains modest.
“Put it this way: I’m just a little somebody,” he said. “I’m the same kid that was homeless in 1941 and I tell children throughout the United States and anywhere I go [that] nothing starts at the top except a hole in the ground and it keeps going down.”
“It was a journey, but I’m still that same kid, I just got older. But the fact remains the same—if I can help someone, my living won’t be in vain,” he said. “I didn’t do things for recognition. I did [things] because I felt it was the right thing to do.”
Regions Bank, o2ideas and the American Marketing Association Birmingham contributed to this post.