Patricia Stewart was born in Vallejo, California as Virginia Etheridge Rhodes, daughter of Butler Young Rhodes, an Annapolis graduate, and Virginia Ryan Rhodes. She was called Ginny until age thirteen when her name was changed to Patricia to avoid duplicating her mother’s nickname. A Navy child, Pat moved often, attending 12 primary and secondary schools, from Boston to Vallejo to Panama and many points between. Later, in her life as a pacifist, she remembered enjoying shipboard tea socials under 14” guns. This way of life came to an abrupt end when Pat’s father was killed in an accident at Mare Island Naval Base, leaving his wife, with Pat and her brother Butler, to live on a monthly pension of $39, an allowance unchanged by Congress since the Civil War.
Pat, who was 14 at the time, immediately found work as a society reporter for the Vallejo Times, and the following year won a Cranston scholarship to Stanford. She earned money by tutoring fellow students in her major, philosophy. She made lifelong friends with her 25 sorority sisters, who met regularly through the Great Depression, WWII and into the early 1990’s. In 1930 she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude. She had become engaged to classmate John Kenneth Stewart, “Jack” and they were married in a simple ceremony in the Stanford chapel on August 15, 1930.
In their early years, Pat and Jack were not much troubled by having very little money. Jack worked for Chase Bank in San Francisco, and Pat took a series of low-paying jobs. They lived in a succession of tiny apartments, all with beautiful views. Their first great sadness was the death, during delivery, of their baby girl. To heal from her grief, Pat enrolled in art school, which she enjoyed up until she became a mother, first of John Kenneth born in 1934, then Nancy Lee born in 1936. Pat was devoted to rearing her family, and when the children entered the Presidio School, Pat got a job there, though later she was dismissed – for smoking! They bought a big old house nearby and fixed it up; then in 1944 sold it at a profit so they could pay off debts and move to Palo Alto, where the climate was better for the children’s health. There, Jack started his own investment firm.
While raising her children, Pat found a keen interest in issues of peace and social justice. She was a friend of Josephine Duveneck, working with her to oppose nuclear weapons and on prison reform. Pat’s life-long involvement with the American Friends Service Committee began in 1942 with her volunteering in their project of placing interned Japanese-American students in mid-western colleges. She led a group of volunteer women who collected, cleaned and mended clothing to be shipped to war-devastated Europe. Later, during the McCarthy era, she clerked AFSC’s High School committee which organized state-wide conferences at Asilomar for teachers and students to discuss the subject of civil liberties. In 1955, for the celebration of the UN’s 10th birthday in San Francisco, the AFSC put Pat in charge of scheduling the speakers, including ambassadors from all over the world.
Pat dictated her memoir Exploring the Past to daughter Nancy, and after editing, took pleasure in having it bound for her family. In 1952, after years of involvement with Quakers, Pat joined Palo Alto Monthly Meeting. In her memoir, Pat writes “It was a very important change for me…a salvation…In the silence of Friends meetings I kept my sanity and found my soul. But it wasn’t easy…I had a stop in my mind when it came to the peace testimony because I persisted in thinking that the Civil War was a ‘just’ war, resulting as it did in abolishing the hateful institution of slavery. It took considerable struggle for me to realize that the violence of war had in no way accomplished racial justice, but had instead only driven inequality underground…I [became] convinced that war, even one with noble aims, is a brutal shortcut creating more violence in its wake…without providing solutions to the issues in contention.”
In 1957 Pat’s 27-year marriage ended. In son John’s words, “Mother and Dad had more in common as struggling young students and young marrieds at Stanford than in middle age with their children grown.” In her early fifties Pat pursued a burgeoning interest in psychology, earning a doctorate from the University of London. Her thesis, Children in Distress, later published, explored a participative story/game process to identify children at risk for serious mental illness, comparing results for subjects in the U.S. and U.K. On completion of her doctorate, Pat moved to Berkeley and bought a house on Gravatt Street with a view of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. For 15 years she commuted to Napa to work in the acute wards of the State Hospital. After she retired, she led group sessions at a women’s prison, saw individual clients, and worked part-time in a locked community mental health facility.
In 1969, she transferred her membership to Berkeley Friends Meeting, where she clerked the Meeting, 1972-3, and served two terms as clerk of the Ministry and Oversight Committee. She continued to be deeply involved with the AFSC’s Northern California regional office, serving as clerk of the Criminal Justice committee 1976-82, then of the Executive committee 1983-85.
Calamity struck when her home burned in the Oakland-Berkeley hills firestorm of October 20, 1991. Everything was lost: her house and all its contents, including 81 years of memorabilia, family photos and letters, plus notes and data for an extensive research project that would have introduced her new theory about children’s mental illness. Pat called the fire, which burned 3,000 homes and cost 30 lives, her “personal holocaust.” Friends helped her to rent temporary housing until she bought a new home in North Berkeley.
Her concern for social justice issues remained paramount, particularly the treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill. In the late 1990’s she became convinced that AFSC should write a new Struggle for Justice. Published by AFSC in 1972, that book had changed the dialogue on criminal justice around sentencing practices, and Pat believed a new dialogue was needed. Pat saw the new book through to publication, providing funds and encouragement. Laura Magnani, coauthor with the late Harmon Wray, described her role: “Pat was persistent: she didn’t have to ‘work her way,’ but also didn’t retreat. She was our Quintessential Quaker.” The result was Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System. On October 8, 2003, surrounded by family and friends, Pat was honored by AFSC at a dinner to celebrate its publication.
In her final years, Pat suffered from acute spinal arthritis and was not able to sit through Meeting – even on the handsome seat cushions she had donated to the Meeting House. Her absence was felt. As one Friend said: “Pat sat in deep stillness, radiating quietude. She anchored the Meeting.” Housebound, she continued to receive a steady stream of visitors who came for a dose of her special brand of straight-talk, humor and love. One young Friend remembers being comforted by her words in a crisis of doubt: “It’s okay if you don’t believe in God; God believes in you.” An avid reader, Pat was concerned about failing eyesight. Yet her strong intellect and her deep wisdom kept her lively and engaged to the end. Her greatest joy was in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She found in herself a poet’s voice, and wrote a series of playful and profound poems on aging and death. One ends with the lines:
Dusk is time to strike the flag.
My worn body tells me
Death is a friend.
It is not polite
To keep a friend waiting.
Patricia Rhodes Stewart died July 2008, at the age of 98.