Beyond the Build

Community Service

Building a Legacy: What a Great Man Leaves Behind

Every once in a while someone comes along in my life so inspiring and benevolent that it makes me ask the great introspective questions about who I am and what the real purposes of life are. The person motivates me to be a better individual, and when faced with a dilemma, I ask myself, “what would he do?”

This spring we lost one of the great sportsmen in the country, Mr. William R. Ireland, a long time friend and neighbor, at the age of 85. Born in Birmingham, he attended Auburn University and fought in World War II as a Navy man before returning home to work at Vulcan Materials, the family company, for 30 years.

He was president of the Alabama Wildlife Federation, and helped create and pass the Alabama Forever Wild constitutional amendment, legislature that set up a state-funded program to buy and set aside land for wildlife protection. He also supported Ducks Unlimited, the American Cancer Society, Boy Scouts of America, the Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, the Nature Conservancy, Freshwater Land Trust, and the Big Brothers of Greater Birmingham.

In his later years he founded a 5,000-acre hunting preserve in Alexander City, AL called Five Star Plantation, a site that is frequently visited by the Boy Scouts and other local youth organizations. He was a true friend of mine and he will be severely missed. My son and I had the pleasure of joining Mr. Ireland in the inaugural duck hunt on the William R. Ireland Wildlife Preserve on the banks of Tennessee River in Scottsboro, AL in 1997. His dedication to community service, philanthropy and nature continue to serve as inspiration for me.

I’m forever searching for the ways to live up to the example Mr. Ireland gave me, hoping I might open a door for others to join me in continuing his work. What can you do to inspire someone?

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.