Billy Clifton Stewart, 81, passed away of natural causes on December 28, 2023. He was born in Albany, Georgia on January 7, 1942, as the fifth of six children born to Monroe Ocey Bell Stewart and Vennie Hazel George Stewart. Billy is survived by one sister, Bonnie Sue Stewart Guthrie of Bonifay, 19 nieces, and nephews, and numerous grand- and great-grand-nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, and siblings Charles, Willorene, Wayne, and Martha. He graduated from Bay High School in Panama City in 1961 and served as an enlisted Airman in the U.S. Air Force in Germany during the Cold War years. Billy served as a firefighter in Atlanta and in the Bahamas. He also worked at the Parrot Jungle in Miami, where he led shows with trained parrots and macaws. He would later go on to earn college degrees from Gulf Coast Community College and the University of West Florida, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology. He earned his state teaching certification through Florida State University. He taught high school in Cairo, Georgia and Port St Joe, Florida, as well as in two different schools for troubled youths in Florida. He never married but did touch the lives of countless young people as a science teacher, swimming instructor, coach, fishing buddy, Assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 705 in Bonifay, and was a master storyteller. For over 50 years up through the Summer of 2023 in what would be his final summer of life, “Mr. Bill” as he was known around Panama City Beach taught swimming lessons and became highly sought after by parents as a swimming instructor for their young children. His record of success in teaching valuable water skills to young children was widely known. He was instrumental in making hundreds of young children safer and more confident around the water, and as large as his circle of influence was, he was surely instrumental in preventing potential tragedies. Billy owned a kayak rental business in Panama City, Mr. Bill’s Kayaks, and no one knew both the freshwater and saltwater canoeing, kayaking, swimming, diving, and fishing areas around Bay, Walton, Holmes, Washington, and Jackson Counties in North Florida better than he did. As a certified scuba diver with many years of experience, he was at times asked to assist authorities in search and recovery efforts in the 1960’s, ‘70’s, and ‘80’s. Every new adventure brought additional stories to tell his many nieces and nephews, and their friends. He was a natural teacher and cared for children and for animals. He never missed an opportunity to teach a life concept or skill to a young person, or to give out inspiration and encouragement, and he never turned away from a stray animal. He will be sorely missed by all who had the blessing of knowing him.
Visitation will be held one hour prior to the service from 10 to 11 AM at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bonifay, Florida. Funeral services will be held 11:00 AM Saturday, January 6, 2024, at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Interment will be held at 2:00 PM Saturday, January 6, 2024, in the East Mt. Zion Methodist Church Cemetery.