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Tom McEwen

The late Tom McEwen, sports editor of The Tampa Times from 1958-62 before being named sports editor of The Tampa Tribune in 1962, graced the Tribune sports section with his award-winning column, The Morning After, and his Breakfast Bonus notes columns were a signature offering from the 19-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year. McEwen died in June, 2011 at the age of 88. His wife, Linda, occasionally contributes past columns and exerpts to this blog.

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Thank You And Good Bye Barefoot Stew

Posted Aug 28, 2008 by Tom McEwen

Updated Aug 28, 2008 at 08:25 PM

During his robust and rousing years, his years of worldwide travel, his I-dare-you times, Stew McDonald was an envied man. Tall, athletic and about as good a barefoot water-skier as you’d ever want to watch.

He looked a bit like Lee Marvin, did the carefree dangerous things Lee Marvin did in the movies, had a fine formal education and did, some say, most of everything he wanted to do while living a long adventurous life.

And, Stew McDonald almost never, ever wore shoes.

He used to come to my Tribune office regularly.  He appreciated the media and some of those in it, and he knew a story when he was doing it, whether barefoot water skiing, or cutting ads for the big-time television ads which he wrote and directed.

The zestful, imaginative Stew McDonald died this week after a long eventful life surrounded by family. You and I will remember Stew for his verve, his big smile, his barefooted acrobatics - wondering how in the heck he could put those feet of his down on the hot Downtown Tampa concrete this time of year.

Anyway, Stew said he did not like shoes, ever, and cast them aside after the Air Force.

Of course, growing up in Wauchula I wondered how Merle and Bob Revels could go to my Hardee County High without shoes, along with others, but they did and never once winced, far as I could tell. Hey, they lived in Ona, not a show place. I lived in Wauchula, a shoes place.

Stew was as a yankee who went to Cornell, then our University of Miami where he was the president of the student body. He joined the Air Force, learned to fly, drive boats and cars fast, chose our sunshine over the snow, and dived into water skiing hereabouts in the Fifties. He worked hard with Dick Pope (inventor of barefoot skiing) and started his ski school here in Tampa that he directed. From then on this adventurous man water-skied the world over and posted countless TV ads for many of the big corporations.

Tampa, generally, had been his base all this time and Floridians have been his friends.

Stew McDonald was easy to know, easy to like. And, yes, yes he is in the Water Skiing Hall of Fame.

Now, don’t forget, these world-class barefoot skiers do about everything their counter part on skis do - twists, turns, acrobatics, and jumps - and they have the competions that the on-ski athletes do. Much of all that is now, and has been, was perfected at the wonderful McCormick Water Ski School just north of I-4, between Tampa and Plant City, Florida.

“I’ve been barefoot since I was a boy,’’ Stew told our Bob Scanlon once. “I never liked shoes. I had to wear them in the service.  I took them off and I have never worn them since, oh, except to weddings of special importance.”

He perfected the routine of leaving a jumping ramp at 42 miles an hour.  America and Australia pioneered the sport, but, no one was more important to it than the late Stew.

He made it clear that it was Dick Pope and the Cypress Gardens Family that made it all go.  He reminded me that is was a man named A.G. Hancock, a Central Florida banker, who made the first barefoot ski, and the Popes who made it a world-wide popular sport.

But the man being lain to rest, our own Stew McDonald, surely was the all time champion of barefoot waterskiing.

Reader Comments

Por (Richard Gonzmart) on August 30, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Stew taught me to ski when I was about 6-years old at his old Rocky Point ski school location. I would frequent there to vist my father who was operating the Rocky Point Restaurant at the motel by the same name. I remember seeing this larger than life person, who when he entered a room everyone would take notice. He was like a movie star. Yes, he did resemble Lee Marvin’s characters especially that tough, hard as nails Sargent in the Dirty Dozen. Whenever I see the movie the memory of Stew comes to mind. He could barefoot like no one else. he was a unique man, the kind of man we all wish we could be, not caring what others thought of his boheimian lifestyle. Rest in Peace Stew “Barefoot” McDonald, you never will have to wear shoes again.

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Por (Sylvia Scott Mixon) on August 31, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Stew was a friend and one of a kind person. He always easy to talk and learn from. He took me to my frist world barefoot tourment and was always under his wing. I will miss him very much because he knew how to give to others. A man not easy will be forgotten.

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Por (garry barton) on September 07, 2008 (Suggest removal)

met stew in the 70,s what a great guy larger than life
sad to hear of his passing
have great memories and many stories
garry barton

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