Friends, family question death of prominent Peninsula realty leader 

Realtors and civic leaders on the Peninsula and in the South Bay are mourning the unexpected death of industry spokesman Paul Stewart, who died last week after being hospitalized due to a suspected heart attack.

Friends and family members believe possible mistakes allegedly made by hospital staff could have contributed to his death.

Stewart’s wife, Tess Crescini, said she brought him to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Jose on May 8 because his knees were painfully swollen. He was admitted to the hospital when a doctor determined he had suffered a heart attack.

Shortly after being hospitalized, Stewart choked on a piece of food. Hospital staff fought for at least 20 minutes to clear the obstruction, Crescini said. He was transferred to the intensive care unit, but couldn’t be resuscitated.

Stewart’s upper teeth were artificial and on a temporary, removable bridge that hospital staff had taken from him, Crescini said. She added that Stewart was given an injection of the painkiller Dilaudid right before he was served the hamburger that he choked on.

The fact that Stewart’s artificial teeth hadn’t been returned to him might have prevented him from being able to chew his food adequately before attempting to swallow it, Crescini speculated.

In a prepared statement, Kaiser representatives said: “We expressed our condolences to Mr. Stewart’s family. Out of respect for patient privacy laws, we cannot discuss individual cases. Quality and safety are Kaiser Permanente’s highest priorities. We take any concerns brought to our attention seriously, and investigate them thoroughly.”

Born in Oakland on April 14, 1952, Stewart grew up in San Jose. He met his first wife, Stephanie Honeywell, at the church he attended in Santa Clara.

While majoring in journalism at San Jose State University, Stewart served as a linebacker on the school’s football team, and once intercepted a pass from future NFL great Jim Plunkett during a game with Stanford University.

After completing his studies, Stewart worked as a newspaper reporter in Lodi and Gilroy. He then became a legislative analyst for the construction industry in Sacramento.

Honeywell and Stewart were married for 30 years and had two daughters, Robyn and Jana.

Stewart was CEO of the Santa Clara Association of Realtors when he met Crescini in 2001. She credits him with transforming the organization from one run by “old white guys” into a group that better reflected its members’ diversity.

Stewart’s final job was with the San Mateo County Association of Realtors, where he served as the organization’s government affairs director.

Steve Blanton, CEO of the Peninsula association, said Stewart was a “huge” fan of “Doctor Who” who had a model T.A.R.D.I.S. on his desk.

Stewart was a tireless advocate for homeowners and Realtors, Blanton said, and his accomplishments include convincing several Peninsula city governments to reconsider proposed point-of-sale ordinances that might have placed new financial burdens on home sellers and given city inspectors increased access to people’s homes.

Stewart may have embodied progressive values when it came to his commitment to diversity, but Crescini said he was a chivalrous, old-fashioned romantic who arranged a lot of lucky “coincidences” when he became interested in her.

“He was definitely old school in his courtship,” Crescini said. “He lobbied all my friends about how he would be a good partner for me.”

Clarification: The timeline from when Stewart was admitted to the hospital and when he choked on the hamburger was originally incorrect.

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