William Robert Henry Stewart was the son of the Dr W E Stewart FRCS of Harley Street and Louisa Baker and was born in 1852. He had five siblings Bessy Charlotte Stewart, Sir Edward Stewart, Louisa J Stewart, Maud Ellen Stewart and Edith E Stewart.
He studied at University College Hospital, qualifying in 1874, and taking the FRCS at Edinburgh in 1878. Partly owing to ill-health, he spent some of his earlier years cruising on the steam-yachts Ceylon and the Tybumia as medical officer. He then specialised as a Ear Nose and Throat surgeon, in the pioneering days of the specialism.
In the early days of laryngology he was one of the pioneers of the specialty in this country, and worked with Sir Morell Mackenzie both at Golden Square and in private practice. He became surgeon to the Golden Square Hospital, and worked there until, in conjunction with some of his colleagues, he helped to found the London Throat Hospital in the year 1887. Here he spent many years of active work, retiring to the post of consulting surgeon in 1898. He became surgeon to the throat and ear department of the North-West London Hospital, and later was appointed aurist to the Great Northern Central Hospital, adding the work of the laryngeal to the aural department there in the year 1894. He continued the active duties of this post until his death.
At its foundation, in 1893, Mr. Stewart was an energetic member of the Laryngological Society of London, and was elected Honorary Secretary in the second year of its existence; later he was elected Yice-President, and in 1902 Treasurer of the Society, and to his exertions in that post much of the success of the Garcia Centenary Celebration is due; he gladly gave up much of his time to corre- spondence connected with the festival, but unfortunately ill-health made it impossible for him to be present on the actual day.
Mr Stewart will long be remembered by the profession at large as one of the most respected of the pioneers of laryngology in this country, but to his colleagues and other intimate friends his memory will always be endeared by a singular personal charm. Those who saw him but once or twice, and in recent years, may possibly remember him as a quiet, reserved man, with a dignified but always friendly face; but those who knew him well found in him a most staunch and affectionate friend, constantly thinking of the welfare and interests of others before his own, and saw in him an able surgeon who proved himself day by day a pattern of loyalty to his patients and to the profession.
He made a considerable number of contributions to the literature of the specialty, and particularly to that of otology, although in late years his interest was more especially directed towards the study of rhinology.
For some two or three years prior to his passing away in 1906 he had been in bad health, and had spent a good many of his leisure hours at his home in Kent, and consequently had not been seen so frequently at the meetings of the various medical societies he was a member of. The abdominal pains from which he suffered became during the past few months increasingly severe; duodenal ulcer was diagnosed, and it was decided to perform gastro-jejunostomy after a period of rest and dieting. The operation was successfully accomplished, but the patient died from exhaustion in the early hours of the following morning, 7 March 1906.
In its obituary the BMJ spoke not only of his professional and vocational calling but equally of his personal qualities. He was “universally respected“, “a most charming, manly, and upright man” who knew how “to combine fortiter in re with the suaviter in modo”.