was the summer of ’73, and Stewart Couch was planning his own “Endless
Summer.” He and surfing buddies Doug Meekins and Gary Bowers split the
$300 three ways on a used Ford van and, burning the midnight oil at the
Lighthouse Service Center, they readied it for the long haul from
Hatteras to Baja Mexico.
craved high adventure, and did this trip ever deliver. An attempted
van-jacking in the Mexican desert, numerous blown tires, a near cliff
drive-off and a blown motor outside New Orleans on the way home
provided him with a vision for what he wanted out of life and the plan
to fulfill it.
became Hatteras Realty.
he died Feb. 21 at the age of 61 at San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, my
brother Stewart was still living his dream, thanks to the
Hatteras Realty was screaming into the future with the right people to
see it through, managing 568 premier homes and a $300 million
portfolio. He labeled Hatteras Realty’s business model “five-star
service,” and, as one of the last of a generation of Outer Banks
entrepreneurs, he knew an amenities-driven market would help separate
us from other resorts.
travels over 39 years to places like South Africa, Bali, Fiji, Tahiti,
Singapore, Hong Kong, Brazil, Hawaii, almost all of Europe, Indonesia,
Puerto Rico, numerous Caribbean islands, the Mediterranean, and a host
of obscure locales provided him the insight and confidence that shaped
the way, the high adventure was always there. While hitchhiking the
length of Africa in 1978, he was detained in Uganda at the height of
the Idi “Big Daddy” Amin regime and witnessed two political dissidents
in the cell with him beaten and fed to the crocs.
traveling partner suffered a nervous breakdown when the guards
returned, threatening that they were next.
a Portuguese man-of-war dropped out of a wave onto him, and he spent 48
hours in the hospital.
made lifelong friendships traveling the world, and two of the best were
there at his memorial service. Brad Nack, a striking, dark-haired
Californian who traveled around Europe with him, gave a poignant,
touching eulogy. It was so quiet at the reception
Frank Carpani, an Australian, played Bono’s “A Dying Sailor to His
Shipmates” that those crowded into Hatteras Realty’s conference room
could hear the swoosh of air from the vents overhead.
with Stewie left a legacy -- family came first. He took his daughter,
Nikki, to Paris, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand over
a four-year span. How many teen-age daughters have traveled the world?
He didn’t miss a family reunion in Kansas in 17 years. He wanted to
bring his niece, Jenny Couch Clark, and her family out to Hatteras when
they moved from Dallas to Cary. He brought my kids -- Rae, Gideon and
Griffin -- gifts from everywhere he went. He took me to real estate
conventions in San Francisco, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and
favorite thing about going places with Stewart was renting a car. The
experience was, in a word, hysterical. He was to the rental car
industry what a rock star is to a hotel room. It took 48 hours or less
for him to bald the tires, whack the front end out of alignment, and
dent the door. Hertz might be “Number 1,” but when Stew got done with
it, that car wasn’t worth even the Number 2 spot.
were a blast with Stewart, too. On our way to cousin Jenny Stewart’s
wedding in Kansas City, we ran like running backs through O’Hare
Airport to catch our flight. We bolted past a stammering ticket agent
down the jet way, and, as the door was shutting, Stew shoved a magazine
through the slightest of cracks. The door opened, we walked in, and
Stewart, with his Robin Williams-like sense of humor, remarked, “Please
hold your applause until after we’re airborne.”
me laugh harder than Stewart. He was absolutely fearless in front of
loved kids and animals. Hatteras Realty has tons of pictures of Stew
grabbing up a guest’s or owner’s child for a photo op. He quit duck
hunting in high school because ducks were so cute. Dad got mad at him
when we went jerk jigging for trout in Cape Channel because Stew would
toss the fish overboard once Dad turned his back.
was very giving, as charitable as anyone I knew. He sponsored a Balian
orphan faithfully every month. He threw a McDonald’s bag full of
crumpled $20 and $50 bills to Rev. Cory Oliver for the
mission trip to South Africa, joking on his way out the church door
that it was for a “one way ticket.” Tim Waterfield deliberately
under-bid a job just to get the work, and Stew - a contractor - told
him, “You better learn how to price a job” and then threw in a kayak
and some fishing poles with the deal. The pool at the Hatteras Realty
office in Avon was always open to locals.
down, despite his persona, Stewart was insecure. Ten years younger than
Stew, I was barely a teen-ager when I overheard him telling our mother
that “All the girls look past me…” Beyond those who knew him well, it
would surprise some to know that Stewart Couch would have been
embarrassed by the tremendous outpouring on his passing. His memorial
service at the Buxton United Methodist Church was attended by more than
400 people who squeezed in shoulder-to-shoulder, and more than 600
folks attended the reception at Hatteras Realty in Avon after the
long-time friend of our family told me Stewart’s service offered the
most overwhelming message of love that she personally had ever
witnessed. The array of musical talent performing at the service
-- Jack Quidley, April Trueblood, Michael Hooper, Sherry
Lou Castro, Taryn Doty, Chuck Conlogue, and our brother, John Couch --
was on an impassioned, spontaneous level that these islands, known for
their musicians, has probably never seen.
last day in this world couldn’t have been scripted more perfectly. He
and Steve Magliano paddled out to head-high surf in Nicaragua, clean
and blue with the wind offshore. Despite having trouble the
year getting up on his board, he managed a bottom turn on a nice right
and popped up 30 yards down the beach with “his face just beaming,”
the end of the day, he was not feeling well. Steve and Jody
took him to the medical clinic, and he gave the doctor $50 for the
around 7 a.m., he collapsed in the bathroom. Judging by the way he was
found, it appeared he was looking at himself in the mirror when his
knees buckled. He fell gracefully to the floor, and his head was
resting on his arm as if he was sleeping. His eyes were closed.
is symbolic irony that, without a gurney, Nicaraguan first responders
carried Stewart out of his villa on his surfboard.
taken a liking to a Nicaraguan street kid named Juan Manuel, who called
Stew, “Padre PePe.” When the youngster placed third in the Hermosa
contest at San Juan del Sur on Stew’s borrowed board, Stewart pledged
the board to the boy.
board was left behind in Nicaragua with Juan Manuel.
him to have it,” Jody Stowe said.
peace, Stewart. We’ll see you soon, at a surfbreak somewhere in Heaven.