Editor’s note: This article is the third in a series of feature stories about the mayors in Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes.
ALBANY — Thomas “Dillard” Stewart still recalls the quiet village in which he grew up as one where he “knew everyone in town.”
“I’ve been here all my life,” said the 71-year-old, who took the helm as mayor about a year ago.
“We used to have a movie theater here, but big towns have taken that,” Stewart said. “The little people (several mom and pop operations that once colored the town) are gone.”
As he talked about the “old days,” when the population hadn’t yet hit 1,000 residents, Stewart smiled.
“I have fond memories of a skating rink we had,” he said.
As a child, Stewart would talk to residents almost daily while his mother, Myrtis Bankston, cut hair in a beauty shop.
“She would walk out on the street and tell you if you needed a haircut,” Stewart said.
Stewart was born in the village and stayed there until he joined the U.S. Navy in 1958 during the Vietnam era, where he took care of aircraft carriers, he said.
He returned to the village in 1962, and joined the local union of millwrights, where he worked for 12 years.
He later joined the Sheriff’s Office as a detective, where he worked for 30 years until he retired.
“We did the detective work and the road-running at first and then later on the sheriff’s separated the jobs,” Stewart said.
Today, Stewart spends his time as the town mayor and serves paperwork to people in the parish under District Attorney Scott Perrilloux.
When he is not busy tending to town business or aiding the district attorney, Stewart tends to his cattle and horses.
“He raises and sells some good Charlet cattle,” longtime friend Billy Ray Bankston said.
“This is my town; I have lived her all of my life and I support it,” Stewart said of his decision to run following the resignation of former Mayor Thomas Allen Stewart.
Although Stewart has only served as mayor for just over a year, Bankston said he believes he is the right person for the job.
“He has the town in his best interest and I think, in time, he will be a good mayor,” Bankston said.
“As an individual, I like Dillard,” he said. “I think he’s a pretty open minded feller; he’s willing to listen; he’s willing to help.”
Stewart’s 23 grandchildren helped in his bid for mayor, Stewart said, adding that many of them hit the streets to garner support for their grandfather.
His reason for taking office was simple, he said. “Mostly, I wanted things to stay practically like they are now.”
The village, however, received town status in December, with a population of just more than 1,000 residents.
Stewart is working to run sewer lines from the city limits to Interstate 12. A new water system, which extends past the town limits, is complete, though some additional lines will be run from Prokop Road and around the schools on La. 22, Stewart said.
“The main thing we got here are the schools,” Stewart said.
Stewart said the town will apply for a Community Block Development grant to help fund the sewer project and rely on sales tax revenue to pay their portion of the bill. While sales tax revenue had been down for more than a year, Stewart sees a bright future ahead.
“It’s beginning to grow some,” Stewart said.
A new gas station and convenience store, if annexed into the town limits, and slated to open near I-12, will help bring in more tax revenue to the town, he said.
With continued progress, Stewart said he’s “proud to live here.”
In the future, Stewart said he hopes to expand the town limits, but the process to do so is a lengthy one, he said. He is working to get residents outside of the town limits to sign a petition asking that their property be annexed into the town.
“We want to go east, and we’re hoping to go south shortly, he said. “And then we might go west in a little.”
“Dillard’s idea of work is to help other people,” said his wife Flora Bostwick Stewart.
“That’s what keeps him going, and he knows he is needed,” she said.
The couple have been married for 46 years, she said.
Despite his hectic pace, Stewart has slowed down some in recent years, his wife said. Two years ago, Stewart’s heart stopped beating while he was on vacation in Branson, Mo.
“All of a sudden his heart stopped beating,” Flora said.
Bankston spent about three weeks at a hospital in Branson, where he received a pacemaker and defibrillator, Flora said.
“You would be surprised at the people of Albany and the surrounding area that came to visit,” she recalled.
“It’s good to know you’re loved and that you’ve got plenty of friends,” she said.
“You can’t let that kind of stuff worry you,” Stewart said of the heart problem.
In addition to his own fight for life, Stewart has had to endure the death of one of his sons, who was killed in a car accident, and the death of a grandson, who was shot in a gun accident.
Stewart, who presses on despite life’s tragedies, had never run for political office before being elected as mayor.