William Townsend Stewart of West Tisbury and San Francisco died Oct. 20 after a diagnosis of thyroid cancer last July. He was 70.

He was born in Providence, the only son of Frank Stewart, a professor of mathematics at Brown University, and Caroline Townsend Stewart, whose ties to the Vineyard were through her cousins the Chittendens, who ran the Borrowdale Bookstore in Edgartown. In 1958, his family bought camp on Seth’s Pond and they enjoyed many summers together. 

For several years during his childhood, he lived in London, where his father was a visiting lecturer at Imperial College. William earned a bachelor’s degree in Russian from Reed College in 1973. He moved to San Francisco in the late 1970s. 

He was a professional calligrapher whose works included a logo for the long-running NPR series Music from the Hearts of Space and for books by the poet James Broughton. He was particularly proud of his meticulously-designed and assembled mail art featuring calligraphy and chromatically complementary antique stamps. (U.S. postage stamps issued since 1860 never expire.) Examples of his art appear in the San Francisco’s Public Library’s Richard Harrison Collection of Calligraphy and Lettering.

William lost several close friends to AIDS in the early years of the epidemic. He volunteered with Shanti Project, one of the world’s first community-based organizations to help support people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He participated in the formation of the Radical Faeries, a loose association of queer-identified individuals founded in 1979. Shared beliefs and traits unite the Faeries, including free expression, an appreciation for nature and a uniquely wry campiness. Most subscribe to pagan or pantheistic spiritual systems.

Following his mother’s death in 1991, William moved to Martha’s Vineyard year-round and lived in the camp on the pond. Around his house he created beautiful gardens and an intricate web of trails featuring found art and lovely installations at every turn. He was a quintessential host and creative cook, and whether for high tea or a formal meal, those gathered could be assured of conversation that was interesting and stimulating.

He involved himself in many local activities and causes, serving on the board of the Vineyard Conservation Society, assisting with work at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, and celebrating with the Unitarian Universalist pagans. His writing prowess, editing skills and generosity served these organizations well. 

In 2012, he relocated to California after his father’s death. In 2014 he co-founded Groundswell, a queer retreat center and intentional community located on 200 acres in Mendocino county. In recent years, he laid plans for Groundswell’s long-term survival, intending the forested refuge to remain a place of ecological stewardship, social justice and service to queer and other marginalized peoples.

True to form, William chronicled his final journey in recent months with intensity and humor. He wrote: “A lifetime of spiritual malpractice is fairly paying off. If I can avoid the medical conveyor belt, I get to have an amazing experience. I feel blessed to have both the opportunity and the psychic resources to be able to model a good end-of-life process, it’s something I hadn’t foreseen being able to offer, but it’s an honor and I accept it unhesitatingly.”

He is survived by a close circle of dear friends and fellow travelers. A memorial service on Martha’s Vineyard is planned for spring 2022, where a portion of his ashes will be interred at Lambert’s Cove Cemetery. Paying homage to his bi-locational life, another portion of his ashes will be scattered at Groundswell in California.

Donations can be made to the Vineyard Conservation Society, P.O. Box 2189, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568; the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, 151 Lagoon Pond Rd. Vineyard Haven MA 02568; or Groundswell Institute, 18500 Highway 128, Yorkville, CA 95494.