Joseph Newkirk recalls seeing the weathered face of Ized Stewart often along Barrett Avenue.
Known to some as George, and known to others in the Richmond community as “the bag man,” Stewart was a fixture in the neighborhood.
Stewart had a distinctive look. He wore layers of tattered clothes. He had a scraggly beard and long dreadlocks often hidden beneath some sort of bag. His eyes were a distant, faded blue.
Since his death of respiratory failure at the age of 64, on July 16, in San Francisco, only a few details have emerged of his life.
Newkirk, 64, who works at Wilson and Kratzer Mortuary on the corner of 24th Street and Barrett Avenue, has seen Mr. Stewart on that same corner for over twenty years.
“He didn’t want anybody to know him. Some days he’d laugh and smile at you, but some days he would ignore you,” Newkirk said, adding, “He was a very nice gentlemen.”
Stewart was a Vietnam veteran. He kept to himself. Day after day he sat reading the books given to him by passersby.
“He came back from Vietnam and just didn’t want to deal with life,” Newkirk said. Stewart’s body was cremated and placed at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon. He had no known family and the County handled his burial.
Myrna Ortiz, 23, moved to the 2400 block of Barrett Avenue in August of 2012, becoming Stewart’s most immediate neighbor.
“He did help me once,” Ortiz said, “I had parked my car here and somebody hit the side window. In the morning I saw my mirror by the door, so I think he probably put it there in the night.”
Judy Lee, 65, who also works at Wilson and Kratzer Mortuary, had known Stewart for eleven years. “He’d walk, all the way up to San Pablo, just cruising. I don’t know where he was going, but he was always walking,” she said.
“He didn’t accept gifts. He was proud and always had food,” Lee added.
Urlel Rivera, 24, who lives with Ortiz on Barrett Avenue, said, “If anything I feel that people didn’t really acknowledge when he was gone. You know, because everybody is always in motion, right. Like even ourselves, it took us a couple days to really figure out what happened to him – we haven’t seen him.”
For a man who rarely spoke, Ized Stewart left his mark on his neighborhood, and people there want to commemorate him, but they are not sure how.
“We are going to have a nice service for George,” Judy Lee said, but the plans are so far not definite.