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Remembering Scott 'Scooter' Stewart, lost to COVID, with Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Free Bird'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

More than a million people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. And NPR's been remembering some of them through the music that gave their lives meaning. We call these tributes Songs of Remembrance.

Today, Shannon Hunt remembers Scott Stewart - or Scooter, as he was known to friends and family. Scott was a mechanic from Shiloh, Ill., and a bonus dad to Shannon and her sister, Amie.

SHANNON HUNT: Scott just taught me how to be cool.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYNYRD SKYNYRD'S "FREE BIRD")

HUNT: He and my mom were best friends for a long time. They dated, best friends on and off, whatever. So he did stuff that my mom didn't want to do, like going to rock concerts with me, was the only one who was fearless enough to teach me to drive on the interstate.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYNYRD SKYNYRD'S "FREE BIRD")

HUNT: He and I actually built my first car together. He bought an old, beat-up 1986 pickup truck. So it was like the skeleton of the car. And he and I put the engine in together. We stripped down the whole car, sanded, painted everything.

We listened to a lot of classic rock in Scott's garage, whether it was working or just hanging out. And "Free Bird" was one of Scott's favorite songs of all time. I mean, he loved Lynyrd Skynyrd in general, but "Free Bird" was always one that stuck with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREE BIRD")

LYNYRD SKYNYRD: (Singing) If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?

HUNT: Scott was very much one of the people that family is what you make it. So the people he met in town, his friends, my sister and I were his bonus children. And there are so many people around here that called him or still call him their brother or Uncle Scooter. He's - you know, you meet him and he's instantly part of your family.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREE BIRD")

LYNYRD SKYNYRD: (Singing) But if I stay here with you, girl, things just couldn't be the same.

HUNT: It sounds silly, but one of the things that we have done and that's mostly stuck out, I think, as his legacy is that everybody who knows him tries to kind of commit these - we call them random acts of Scooter. So Scott was one of those people who would leave a huge tip at the bar or just, you know, give you $20 because it sounded like you're having a hard week and he wanted you to go get something nice for dinner. So we've been trying to continue his legacy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREE BIRD")

LYNYRD SKYNYRD: (Singing) Lord knows, I can't change.

HUNT: And that's the thing that he really taught me most is that you always care for the people you love and you care for the people you don't love and don't really know either because you just never know - because, you know, today is not promised. Tomorrow is not promised. So you've got to do what you can with the time you have and spend as much time you can with the people you love. We really loved him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREE BIRD")

SHAPIRO: Shannon Hunt and her sister, Amie, even made Skynyrd part of their final toast to Scott at his funeral, which streamed on Facebook Live during the pandemic for people who couldn't attend. They're dressed casually - camo pants and cheetah print. Scott wasn't much for formal wear.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HUNT: Raise your glass if Scott ever rescued you, jumped your car, got water out of your gas tank - that's just me, I guess...

(LAUGHTER)

HUNT: ...Changed your oil or did you a favor and refused anything in return. Raise your glass if you've ever had the pleasure of enjoying Scott's deer sausage or fish; if you are at least a little bit sadder every day without him here. Raise your glass if you would take one more chance to remind him how much you love him and how much you appreciated him. And finally, raise your glass if you love Lynyrd Skynyrd. And if you don't, there's the f****** door. To Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYNYRD SKYNYRD'S "FREE BIRD")

SHAPIRO: Scott Stewart, loved and known by many as Scooter, died of COVID-19 in January of last year. He was 57. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 15, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous headline and introduction to this interview misspelled Scott "Scooter" Stewart's last name as Steward.