Randolph Stewart and his trusty sidekick Constance. PHOTOS COURTESY RANDOLPH STEWART

Randolph Stewart studied to become an accountant with a degree from Georgia Southern University, but 50-plus years later he has been the designer, preservationist and rehabilitator behind more than 400 homes across nine states.

For most people, that pace might be enough, but after moving to Bluffton 20 years ago from his home in Tampa, he continued to stay busy with local efforts.

In 2013 Stewart also became the owner, editor and publisher of The Breeze, a popular and colorful magazine formerly known as The Bluffton Breeze, founded in 2002.

The last issue was printed in May 2020, although Stewart has hinted that he might bring it back – that is, if he can find the people and the time.

Randolph fills his spare time serving as vice chairman of the Beaufort County Planning Commission, antique dealer, sometime actor in the May River Theatre, and tall ship sailor. (He did say he was retiring from sailing, but he is following a certain three-masted barque on its round-the-world voyage heading back to Bergen, Norway.)

His father Richard, an Army intelligence officer and his homemaker mother, Billie, were Savanah natives, but Stewart was born in Berlin, Germany, where his father was stationed after World War II. He spent his formative years as an “army brat.” Before his family settled in Silver Spring, Maryland, where he went to high school, he and his brother Richard and sister Corrine also lived in Korea and Japan.

His father was an attaché when they lived in Korea, and Stewart was in the seventh or eighth grade. He recalled that he and his brother regularly carried a five-gallon bucket of chicken soup his mother had made “up hill and down dale and around the corners, and take it to our favorite orphanage. And then we’d wrestle with the kids that lived there.” 

His mother, being a Southern lady, would also cook fried chicken, lots of crabs and seafood and shrimp, but those foods weren’t always available overseas. Taking in all his travels, Stewart enjoys a variety of cuisines, but spicy is not on the menu, including the highly seasoned Korean pickled cabbage called kimchi.

As he grew up, Stewart once thought about becoming a doctor, but by the time he passed through a number of colleges, eventually going from Emory University to finish at Georgia Southern, he had a degree in accounting. In order to make money for college, he sold water beds, and worked at Georgia Baptist Hospital as an autopsy and blood bank assistant.

His accounting career led him into work as a general contractor, but soon he began designing homes, something he said went back to his childhood.

“My great-grandfather had a chain of furniture stores. I think that’s where it started. I’ve gone back and looked at my old stuff, and I bet I started designing before high school, and it kept going,” he said.

Among his early travels, he recalled a memorable trip.

“I was in El Salvador once. My college roommate’s father was the minister of agriculture, and early one evening we ran across the son of the chief of their Supreme Court,” he said. “We were going out, and next thing we knew we had a bunch of guys with submachine guns pointing at us and taking us to prison.

“Years later I came across my roommate’s father, and I asked what went down. He said it was all about guns, money and votes in an election year,” he continued. “There was a dictator. They weren’t good, but they weren’t going to hurt us. They just wanted the money, and these men were powerful. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Surviving the kidnapping, which happened just after college, he taught himself the elements of design, and spent several years after graduating on restoring houses as part of the Savannah Landmark Rehabilitation Program. As a designer and general contractor, Stewart has been involved in restoring more than 35 homes on the National Register of Historic Places, working with Art Deco design in Florida, southwestern influence in Tucson, homes in Colleton River Plantation ranging from French to colonial styles, numerous homes along the May River, and designing The Stock Farm and Tabby Road communities, as well as the Calhoun Street Promenade – including hiding the retention pond underground.

“I’ve been very fortunate that people find me and hire me to work outside of the area, but I’m a traditionalist from Savannah,” he said.

In the midst of publishing and designing, Stewart was also an integral part of Bluffton’s Wharf Street Project, the first step the town took in providing affordable housing in Bluffton, consisting of six cottages near the Bluffton Oyster Factory.

Stewart, who has served on the Historic Preservation Commission, wrote the Palmetto Award application that recognized Bluffton for the most outstanding Affordable Housing Project in the State in 2012.

Stewart included architectural articles in The Breeze every month, but they weren’t always about him, because he wanted to include a variety of styles.

He included music articles, featuring writing by Jevon Daly of Silicon Sister and Lowcountry Boil. “He’s a fun guy. He’d never written before that but he found a way,” said Stewart. “And then Frank Schultz, who plays with Muddy Creek, a great band. He’s more classical. But he would write about the symphony. I’d say, ‘Frank, I don’t know what a concerto is. Why don’t you write about that?’ And then I had Pat Bowen, who’s a renowned book writer on food. I never thought I would devote four pages to food every month.”

He also had Jim Cashman writing fiction. Andrew Peeples wrote short stories, and Arnold Rosen, a Sun City veteran, would provide great war stories.

Stewart said he made a few changes from the original publication, changing the name so that it would reflect regional tales and events. He also removed the month and year from the cover so that people wouldn’t look at it and think it was outdated.

“Just because it’s a month old doesn’t mean that stories aren’t any good. Stories are just as good today as they were five years ago, and I’m proud of them. That was my excuse, but the truth of it is I regret that I left on the same month two months in a row, and I said that’ll never happen again,” he laughed.

Having stopped publication, Stewart took the opportunity in November 2021 to cross the Atlantic on the Statsraad Lehmkuhl, the largest tall ship in the world. Built in 1914, the 278-foot floating research vessel is going around the world for one year before returning to its home port in Norway.

The captain and executive officer are sons of the late Albert Seidl, who owned the Barbra Negra, a Norwegian Barquentine built in 1896 that was once moored to Savannah’s docks on River Street.

“I sailed on that as a volunteer, and we became great friends. I’ve known the captain since he was 40. When his sons started this round the world adventure, I crossed the Atlantic, and then I went around Cape Horn, which was quite a thrill to go hitch a ride to the world’s southernmost country. I paid to sleep in a hammock and work all day,” he said with a laugh. “That was in April. At the end of October, I go to Singapore and Jakarta. I’m retired from the sailing, but I’ll meet them in Bergen when they return.”

Stewart said that in every port, scientists come on board and lecture while doing experiments to learn about the different things that humanity is doing to the ocean. One of the duties of sailing on the tall ship was standing watch when it was light, counting plastic bottles floating along the middle of Atlantic Ocean.

He also examined samples taken from the water. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of tiny particles of colored plastic that are floating around out there,” he said.

When Stewart took on the magazine, he wanted to make sure he had something for everyone. “If I bring it back now, it will be quarterly, same format,” he said. “It will be regional more than anything because I think the stories are worth recording.”

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.