As the City of Laurel and the police department continue to grapple with the sudden death of Chief Tyrone Stewart early Monday morning, the hurt eventually will subside, but his legacy never will.
He was a giant of a man with an open-door policy to anyone and everyone who needed him. He handed out his cellphone number like politicians hand out campaign fliers — and he answered those calls whenever needed. Whether it be a dead dog found in the backyard of a home in North Laurel or a drug house in the south, if a resident had a concern, he would answer.
In his nearly eight years as chief, Stewart combined a vivacious personality with larger-than-life characteristics that will make him so difficult to replace. When he took a leave of absence in the spring of 2018, the mayor appointed two captains and a deputy chief to fill in in his absence. Filling that position permanently will be even more difficult. Whoever assumes the “big office” on the third floor of LPD headquarters will have huge shoes to fill.
Under Stewart’s leadership, Laurel remained one of the safest cities in Mississippi. While other cities in our area have been ravaged by violent crimes, Laurel remained a relative haven from violence. That flew in the face of the Laurel 20 or so years ago when shootings were rampant and the city was known as one of the state’s most violent.
The Leader-Call went through a rocky stretch with our relationship with the chief in the aftermath of the Windermere shooting in the summer of 2017, but we never questioned the chief’s love for this city and his dedication to the job and the people under his command. There was never one thing in our coverage of the case or the chief that was personal.
Stewart engaged with the community. He loved being seen and having people see him. Most of all, he loved Laurel and was not shy about showing that love. That, more than his law enforcement experience, will be the hardest aspect of the chief’s job to replace. The next man or woman in that post has to love Laurel.
The LPD and the city are hurting right now. Stewart was such a large presence in the community that his passing will be felt for years to come. He served this community well for about 25 years and left a permanent stamp on the history of, not only the department but the community as well.
Until a permanent replacement is found, the same three men — Deputy Chief Billy Chandler and Capts. Tommy Cox and Shane Valentine — will be acting chiefs. Eventually, one leader will have to be selected to take the reins of the city. We are confident in Mayor Johnny Magee to make the right choice.
It will not be an easy choice, however.
Tyrone Stewart, 48, left a lasting legacy on the City of Laurel.
Rest in peace, Chief.