By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: September 19, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – “She represented what social services stands for – the compassion, caring, and welcoming that we look for.”
Those were the words of Dinwiddie Social Services Director Rose Mastracco as friends and family gathered outside the Dinwiddie County Social Services office Thursday morning to reflect and memorize the work and dedication of the late Yvonne Stewart, a woman whose life was steeped in community service both locally and abroad.
Stewart, who died earlier this year, was a longtime member of the county’s social services department, having worked in the office from 1983 through 2002 before becoming a member of Dinwiddie’s social services administrative board, now known as the social services advisory board, from 2009 until 2019.
Last week’s ceremony saw members of Stewart’s family joined by staff from the social services office and members of the Dinwiddie Social Services Advisory Board, and the community as speakers reflected on Stewart’s life and the legacy of service she leaves behind.
“I miss her everyday, especially when I come here and it seems like there is an empty seat right next to us and she filled that seat so well,” local pastor and advisory board member Christopher Hillman shared, with Mastracco echoing those sentiments.
“I have been here almost six years and she was here when I became the director and she was very welcoming and helpful,” she detailed. “After meetings when we would get together for the advisory board, she would say things like, ‘How are you doing, Rose,’ and, ‘Tell me what’s going on,’ so that was always very helpful.
The family of the late Yvonne Stewart, a longtime advocate for social services in Dinwiddie County reads a special plaque that was unveiled last week in her memory and set to be installed inside the county’s social services office. (Michael Campbell)
The director continued, reflecting on Stewart’s continued focus on those being served by the agency, “She would always ask me how the foster kids were doing and if there was anything going on where we could help and do something for them. She also had ideas for how we can help the elderly because, as an advisory board, we are looking for ways that we can the people we are with and let people know what we are doing, so she had a lot of ideas for that too.”
The speakers last week all spoke about the “flair” Stewart had in regards to her fashion, not being known for dressing down for an occasion, which brought smiles to the faces of her family as they listened to several people talk about the impact the wife, mother, and grandmother had on their lives and what the social services department did on a daily basis.
“She would always have a big smile on her face,” County Administrator Kevin Massengill shared. “While we would talk about various issues that affect social services, which was always very close to her heart, she would talk about people in the community very respectfully. She would really be an advocate for them. And when you talk about the social services advisory board, one of the key responsibilities of that group is to be an advocacy group.”
He added, “She was always extremely humble until she would talk talking about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She would say, ‘I don’t mean to brag,’ and then she would talk about them.” That recollection served as the cornerstone of last week’s event as Stewart’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren had the honor of unveiling a special plaque featuring the late woman’s image and special messages about her decades of service to Dinwiddie County.
“Her impact will be felt for many years and we are comforted to know that God is holding Yvonne in the palm of His hand,” part of the plaque reads, which features special violet trim, Stewart’s favorite color.
The family of Yvonne Stewart joined County Administrator Kevin Massengill for the unveiling of a special plaque that honored the woman’s dedication to serving her community. Stewart worked in the county’s social services office for nearly two decades and on the social services administrative and advisory boards from 2009 until 2019. (Michael Campbell)
In addition, members of Stewart’s family received similar plaques they could take with them and display in their own homes. Her daughter Ramona Minns was on-hand for last week’s ceremony and she was touched by the gesture made by the county’s and its social services office to preserve the legacy of her mother in a special way.
“This is wonderful to see they are going to remember her like this,” she shared. “I didn’t know what they were going to do. This is fitting because she would say she had ‘social worker’ written across her head so, sure enough, she will be here in the building. She loved to help people, talk to people, and always caring for them.”
Minns continued, sharing a story of a time when her mother’s penchant for helping others came through during a special trip to America’s southwest last year.
“In 2018, I had the privilege of taking her to New Mexico and, of course, you go to the museums and things and we ate at the oldest authentic Mexican restaurant,” Minns recalled. “My son Junior and I would always save something to eat at the hotel later and she went out and talked to the people and when we came out with our leftovers, she said, ‘He’s hungry, give him your food.’ So we did and we told her she’s not working down here, but she said ‘I tell you, I got ‘social worker’ written across my head.”
“She had a life of service,” her daughter continued. “She would get us and recruit us to work at the food bank. Rose has a picture of Junior helping out. She would call me to take the trash to take it to the dumpster as well.”
According to Mastracco, the event last week took some time to plan as those involved took time to ensure the right message about Stewart’s significance to the county is shared.
“We had thoughts of what we wanted to say,” she said. “The advisory board wrote the wording for her dedication, we wanted the right colors because of her own flair, so we thought purple would be nice so we thought of different things so it took awhile to get done but we are glad to have the family here so they can enjoy this.”