Robert Stuart is a fixture in College Park, whether he’s welcoming guests to the latest community event or educating business owners on the best ways to deal with code enforcement. No matter the organization, chances are Robert is a part of it in some way. He does this not just because it’s his job, but because this is his neighborhood — the place where he grew up and the place he will never leave.
Is it true that you have lived in College Park your entire life?
Yes, it is … born and raised. I grew up on Gerda Terrace, at New Hampshire and Gerda. That’s where I lived until I went to college.
What was life like for the young Robert Stuart?
It was great. My dad bought the house we lived in because there was a vacant lot behind it, with the thought of selling the lot at some point to pay for a remodel of the front house. Before he knew it, the kids were all growing up and that became the playground for the community. He put in a basketball court, a shuffle board court, he brought in clay so we had a baseball diamond, and we played football. If we weren’t there we were playing at the point at Lake Ivanhoe.
How many little Stuarts were there?
Six. I had three older brothers, a twin sister — and she’s older than I — and then I have a younger sister who’s seven years older than I [smiles]. It’s nice because we all live here in Central Florida.
How was College Park different for kids back then than it is today?
You rode your bikes everywhere. Our parents never drove us anywhere. If you wanted to go somewhere, you just had to figure out how to get there. Sports were a big deal … pick-up games in the neighborhood. We were always outside.
What are some differences that stand out compared to our neighborhood today?
What is now Jersey Mike’s was a fertilizer store. That’s where I was introduced to Black Kow fertilizer. I was lead to believe it only came from black cows.
We all loved to hang out at the soda fountain at Albert’s Drug Store. Mom and dad would let me ride my bike up there and get a cherry Coke. I could charge it to our house account and then ride my bike home.
Back then, everyone knew who you were, so I could never really get into too much trouble.
What about high school? Do any memories in particular stand out about your time at Edgewater?
When I was a senior, I decided I was just going to have fun. Students weren’t allowed to put their own cars in the homecoming parade. So I took this old VW that my dad had — it was painted bright yellow — so we took out some water-based paint and painted the entire car red. We painted big black spots on it, painted some balls yellow and put them on the windshield wipers.
They wouldn’t let us “officially” in the parade, so we snuck in off of one of the side streets. We drove down Edgewater and were passing stuff out, drove to the field and around the loop with all of the other cars and floats, and ended up getting an honorable mention, even though we weren’t supposed to be in the parade.
It was the night before Halloween, so the next night my sister and her friend drove around dressed up in that love bug all over Orlando.
How did your senior class make it to the front page of the Sentinel that year?
We all decided it would be fun to ride our bikes downtown to our graduation which was held at what is now the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center. We all gathered in front of the school and about 150 of us ride our bikes down there. It was June 6, and when we walked out it was hot as the dickens. It was a much better idea in the planning stage than the inception.
Were you involved in student government at Edgewater?
I was! I was also in the Key Club, played basketball and ran track.
It’s very well known that you went to the University of Florida, but what was your major?
I started out in architecture but when the girl I had my sights on dropped out, so did I. I switched to accounting, but realized that just wasn’t for me. So I ended up in advertising. I used to tell my dad that if I stayed in college long enough I would have gotten all the way to zoology. I got through the As. I also graduated with a minor in history, with a focus on Central Florida’s history. I thought it would be an easy A, with my family’s history here, but those were the most difficult and challenging classes I ever had. I did a lot of driving to libraries looking in old newspapers and microfilm. It was a lot harder than it would be today.
Is that where you met your wife, Anne?
I met Anne there on a blind date. She was a year younger and in the same sorority as my sister. After our first date I kept asking her out because I didn’t want any other fraternity brothers snakin’ her from me. We grew “fastly” in love and were married just out of college. Today we have two kids and four grandchildren.
With your degree in advertising, what career path did you choose after graduation?
I was going to work for my dad’s company, George Stuart Incorporated, in the advertising department. About six months out of college, dad got sick and died. The business was left to the kids and my uncle. I ended up taking over the direct sale division. In 1990 the Office Depots of the world put us out of business.
After that, with a few jobs in between, I ended up working at The Christian Service Center for Central Florida and have been there for almost 20 years now.
What made you decide to run for Orlando City Commission in 2006?
I felt like the district could be better served by someone who knew more about Orlando than the people that were [then] in office. I grew up in a town where people didn’t agree but it was OK. I didn’t feel like enough was being done to build community. So I had to run.
I don’t always agree with my wife, but we share a life together. That changes the atmosphere about how you treat each other. I think the similar thing applies to our community. I think you can disagree with people, but you don’t have to treat people with disrespect. That’s why I don’t like national politics. I have no desire to leave Orlando.
Does this mean we shouldn’t expect any negative campaigning from you when you are up for re-election next year?
I don’t think it’s worth it. I’ve lived here my whole life. If you’re going to hear something negative about me, and you’re going to believe it, then I haven’t done a very good job with my reputation.
Your two jobs keep you very busy. What do you do to unwind?
I umpire baseball. That’s one of my outlets. I’ve been umpiring baseball for 46 years … All but one or two years in college, I’ve been umpiring since I was 14 years old.
I play golf when I can, but haven’t had a lot of time for that lately.
Is there anything you still dream of experiencing?
I would love to go to a World Series game. My son and I have always wanted to play golf at St. Andrews in Scotland. I’m terrible at golf, but I would love to do that.
I would love to umpire a major league baseball game, but that’s just never going to happen in my lifetime. I have been on ESPN umpiring the Little League World Series, however. That was really neat.
When do you see yourself retiring?
Never. I can’t even imagine it. Someday it would be nice to have time to travel a little more, but I don’t see myself ever not working.