Monday, April 28, 2014

Vyrtle Houston Steward (1894-1982)

From the 1935-36 Official Manual of the State of Missouri.

   The following profile highlights the life of oddly named Butler County, Missouri resident Vyrtle Houston Steward, a man who occupied the post of Missouri State Commissioner of Motor Vehicles for over a decade. While this office places Steward in the gray area of a "sort-of-political figure", the office of Commissioner of Motor Vehicles is an office within the Missouri Department of State and said office receives a substantial write up in the Official Manual of Missouri, where the above portrait of Mr. Steward was found. Steward is listed in this manual under his initials, and you can imagine the pleasant surprise I received when I found that those initials stood for "Vyrtle Houston"!
   Vyrtle Houston "V.H." Steward was born on December 11, 1894 in Puxico, Missouri, a son of George W. and Mollie L. Steward.  He is recorded as growing up on a Stoddard County, Missouri farm and married in 1917 to Mary Ethel Maddox (1896-1978),  later having two children, Dwight V. (died 1970) and Nelda Leila (1923-1984). Little is known of Steward's early life in Stoddard County, excepting his having earned the nickname "Lefty" while playing first base on a minor league baseball team in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. 
   In the mid-1910s "Lefty" Steward made the acquaintance of Dwight Huber Brown (1887-1944), later to serve as state senator and Secretary of the State of Missouri. Steward and Brown's friendship later saw the two become partners in the publishing of Poplar Bluff Citizen Democrat newspaper, where Brown served as editor. Upon Brown's entering politics in 1920s Steward served as his campaign manager, and is mentioned by the May 18, 1944 edition of the Chillicothe Constitution as having managed Brown's "four campaigns for state office", including his successful 1932 bid for Secretary of the State of Missouri. Upon being elected to that office, Brown brought Steward with him to the Missouri Capitol, appointing him as State Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, a position in the office of the Secretary of State. 
  Steward's appointment to the commissioner's office took effect in January 1933 and as head of one of the state department's largest offices announced a change to the Missouri state license plate in June 1934, altering the plate's color scheme to a green background with white letters. Steward and Brown worked closely during their time in state government, with the Official Missouri Manual noting that:
"Intensive drives are also conducted by the Department to restrain Missouri motorists residing near state boundaries from using the license plates from other states, where they oftimes may be obtained at a lesser price. Secretary of State Dwight H. Brown and Commissioner V.H. Steward have been most successful in this undertaking during their incumbency."
  Vyrtle H. Steward resigned as Commissioner in May 1944, having served eleven years in office. In April 1944 he announced that he would be seeking the Democratic nomination for Secretary of the State of Missouri in that year's primary. Steward was unsuccessful in his candidacy, however, being defeated in the August primary by Wilson Bell, 1, 939 votes to 577. 

From the Southeast Missourian, April 4, 1944.

  Following his defeat Steward continued to be active in Democratic circles in Poplar Bluff, being a member of the Butler County Democratic Committee from 1953-1960. He was preceded in death by his son Dwight in 1970 and his wife in 1978. Steward himself died on July 8, 1982 at age 87 and was interred alongside his wife at the Poplar Bluff City Cemetery in Butler County, Missouri.

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