MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama State University will pay tribute to its outgoing Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts Saturday night. Dr. Tommie “Tonea” Stewart is retiring, and the university is planning to celebrate her decades of dedication with an event called “An Evening With the ASU Theatre: A Tribute to the Legacy of D. Tommie “Tonea” Stewart.”
In Hollywood, Stewart is best known for her recurring role as Miss Etta Kibbee in the television series “In the Heat of the Night.” Her other credits include acting in such movies and television as “A Time to Kill,” "Mississippi Burning" “Matlock” “Girl’s Trip,” and much more.
Stewart’s passion, though, has always been her students.
“I love my work. I love acting,” Stewart said. “I love children, I love the excitement in their eyes, I love the doubt they have of themselves, and the opportunity to validate that you have something to offer.”
After 48 years of teaching young people in higher education, Stewart feels it’s time for her to retire.
“I never felt tired, I’m still not tired. I never felt like there was nothing more I could do. I still feel like there’s more I need to do, especially when it comes to young people,” Stewart explained. “When things begin to change in a way that ignores what you’ve been standing for, and what you’ve worked for, and what you’ve created, then you know it must be time to move on.”
The actress credits her mentor, Frank Silvera, for finding her own validation, and has made it her mission to carry on the legacy of what he taught her.
“To penetrate into the minds of my students that you are exceptional, you are unique, you are in a complete and perfect state, bearing no essential characteristics. Who you are is who you should be. Who you are is who God made you to be. Who you are is a spirit that you must exude,” exclaimed Stewart.
Stewart believes deeply in higher education.
“I understand the significance of education, and the power of having something that no one can take from you. When you have you’re training and you have your credentials, you can hang your shingle anywhere you want.”
What Stewart wants after her incredible career is simple.
“I want to be a beacon to someone, I want to be an encouragement to someone,” Stewart proclaimed. “We’re all just human. No matter how big, how wealthy, how successful, or how renowned a person may become, they’re still just a human being.”
Don’t let that term “retirement” fool you; Stewart has no intention of slowing down. She’s got working ideas for three books she wants to write, she’d also like to continue working with museums, she’d like to try teaching adults for a change, and she has a vision to create a training center for the film and entertainment industry.
The tribute's curtain rises Saturday at 6 p.m. at ASU’s Leila Barlow Theatre, which is located in ASU's Tullibody Fine Arts Building, 845 S. Jackson St. The evening event includes performances by ASU Theatre and Dance, alumni and some special guests.
Tickets to the event are $50, which includes a reception.
For tickets, text COVPA to 41444; visit www.alasu.edu/stewart or call 334-229-4563. Proceeds will benefit the ASU Theatre Arts program.