When La Jolla native Stan Stewart celebrated his 90th birthday on Nov. 22 in La Jolla, it was a milestone. But celebrating it with his two older brothers, who are 93 and 100, made it also a near statistical impossibility.
According to Social Security data, the dependent probability of three brothers sharing their lives for more than 90 years is one in five million. (Ray, a math geek who worked as a government program manager for the Northrup Corporation, worked it out and said he guarantees the statistic’s accuracy.)
William, Ray and Stan have stood together through the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam, Y2K and now, social media.
The Light joined the brothers at Stan’s Mt. Soledad home as they got ready for the big soiree at the Grande Colonial Hotel (a structure that predates Bill by only six years). Bill had just arrived from San Antonio for the occasion with his family; Ray from Atherton, California with his.
Stan and Ray grew up in a still-standing, Thomas Shepherd-architected house at 7118 Olivetas Ave. in the Barber Tract. Their parents, William and Marnie, purchased it for $6,500 in 1941, which at the time they thought was far too much. William was a colonel at Camp Callan, the U.S. Army training camp that occupied the land that became UC San Diego.
“He helped open it,” said Ray, seated on Stan’s living-room couch.
“He knew Callan,” interrupted Bill, sitting across a coffee table from him on a wooden chair.
“Let me finish my story!” Ray shot back. So Bill did. (This is a family in which battles are picked.)
“The camp was not very popular in the town,” Ray continued, “so he wouldn’t wear his Army uniform around town, because there was a lot of derision. But after Pearl Harbor, that all changed.”
Bill recalled the blackouts around town, when military coastal patrols made every civilian darken their home and even tape up their car headlamps to cut down on collective light emission.
“They left just a little sliver, and that’s what you drove with at night,” Bill said. “You don’t know how afraid the people were of the Japanese.”
Stan, the brother who remained a La Jollan for most of his life, has had the same phone number since then.
“After my parents died, I took it over in 1990,” Stan said. “They used to assign those numbers serially, based on when people came. So we were 2,280th in this town.”
Stan added that he wish he took over the Olivetas Avenue house from his parents as well. It is currently valued at $1.75 million by zillow.com
“I wanted to buy the house and my then-wife said she would divorce me if I did,” Stan said. “I should have taken her up on it.”
Stan’s fourth wife, Masako — “don’t ask,” he said — smiled as he made the divorce joke. (Stan played the tuba as a hobby, which is how he met Masako. She played harp in the University of San Diego Symphony Orchestra and he sat behind her.)
Of the three brothers, Stan was the best surfer, there is no argument.
“There’s still my skin on the rocks down at Windansea,” Stan said.
Ray was second-best, and Bill was never even able to stand up.
“I was a body surfer, and my hobby was skin-diving,” he said.
When asked the biggest difference all three notice about La Jolla today, their answer is unanimous: the traffic.
“It’s getting pretty bad,” Stan said. “La Jolla isn’t meant for traffic.”
Stan suggested restoring the electric trolley that ran through La Jolla until 1940, a year before their family’s arrival.
“The tracks were still there, though,” Stan recalled.
“All who want to vote in favor of returning the train, raise your hand,” Bill said.
The motion passed 3-0.
“There’s a point in what I just did,” Bill explained. “We all think together.”
“Same size clothes, same attitude, same politics,” Stan added.
Bill is too old to have grown up in La Jolla with his younger brothers. He was already attending West Point at 18 years old when the family moved. He grew up on Alcatraz, where William Sr. was the warden from 1929 to 1934 — before Al Capone or the Bird Man — while it was still a U.S. Army prison. (He self-published a 2018 book about the experience called “Alcatraz Kid.”)
“Al Capone was coming as we were going,” Bill said, noting that the Stewarts were the very last family to leave the island.
Bill called growing up on Alcatraz “special.”
“I don’t know about fun, but it was special,” he said. “We were completely insulated from the Great Depression. We had a prisoner for a cook, we had a prisoner for a houseboy, we had a prisoner for a gardener.”
They also had a prisoner to thank for saving Stan’s life. When he was four, in 1933, Stan jumped up into an Army truck and managed to dislodge the parking brake.
“There was only one place that truck was going,” Stan recalled being told. “But a prisoner broke ranks from a detail and put the brake back on. The guard had orders to shoot people who did that, but he didn’t.”
“How do you feel?” Bill asked Ray as he fidgeted a negligible amount only perceptible to an older brother.
Ray just completed a treatment for lymphoma earlier that day. Bill has cancer, too — lung, which requires weekly draining of his lung cavity. Both are Stage 4.
“We won’t get to do this many more times,” Stan said.
“We keep looking for more opportunities to get together,” Bill interrupted
“If they arise,” Ray finished his sentence.
Other than to the bravery of an Army prisoner, to what do the brothers attribute the near statistical impossibility of their mutual survival?
“We picked the right parents,” Stan said, noting that William died at 91, Marnie at 99.
“Yeah, I think that’s a big one,” Ray agreed.
“Up to 100, it was family genes,” Bill said. “Now, I’m on my own.”