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Former NFL umpire Rex Stuart passes away

Former NFL umpire, Rex Stuart, passes away at 76.



 Rex Stuart, 1941 – 2018

John Rex Stuart, a retired NFL umpire and replay official, died on March 6, at the age of 76. The Lincolnton, N.C. native officiated in the NFL from 1984 to 1997 and wore number 103 his entire career.

Stuart played college football at Appalachian State University and won all-conference honors as a middle linebacker. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Appalachian State. After his college days, he returned to his home town where he spent time as a teacher. He then spent time in Asheville and Raleigh as a banker and insurance agent. 

After his coaching career, Stuart began officiating football, basketball and wrestling. His officiating career ultimately lead to the National Football League hiring him for the 1984 season. Stuart was assigned to 11 playoff games in his 14 year career, including four wild card and five divisional rounds, plus the 1989 and 1994 NFC Conference Championship games.

After retiring from the NFL after the 1997 season, Stuart became a replay official. He was the official who initiated the booth challenge in the 2002 Divisional Playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots. That booth challenge lead referee Walt Coleman to enforce the Tuck Rule. 

Stuart leaves behind his wife of 34 years, Karen, two daughters and four grandchildren.

Stuart’s obituary appears below.

Our sympathies to all who knew him and loved him.

Rex Stuart (Bright Funeral Home)

John Rex Stuart of Raleigh died peacefully March 6, 2018, surrounded by his family and loved ones after many years of declining health.

Rex is survived by his devoted wife of 34 years, Karen Phelps Stuart, of Raleigh; daughter, Kara Elizabeth Hergenrader, and husband, Matt, of Wake Forest; and daughter, Mary Kaitland Davis, and husband, Gene, of Raleigh.  Also surviving are four beautiful grandchildren; Garrett Ryan Hergenrader and Emma Gray Hergenrader, and Stuart Wynn Fortescue Davis and Elizabeth Ann Rogers Davis. 

Rex was predeceased by his parents Mary Agnes Dellinger Stuart and John Rex Stuart.

Rex was born April 7, 1941, in Charlotte and grew up in Lincolnton, N.C.  While there he became an Eagle Scout and earned a full football scholarship to Appalachian State University where he was an All-Conference middle linebacker.  He earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Appalachian State.

Rex returned to his hometown of Lincolnton and taught high school and coached.  He then pursued a career in banking in Asheville where he was also president of the Asheville Jaycees. 

Rex then moved into management with Traveler’s Insurance and some years later became a State Farm Agent in Raleigh where he remained until his retirement.  He earned many awards and trips with State Farm.  He served as president of the Raleigh Association of Life Underwriters and was presented the Man of the Year Award for his service.

Rex loved sports and began officiating football, basketball and wrestling at all levels ultimately becoming an umpire with the National Football League.  He excelled at this position.  Over 14 years, he umpired the Pro Bowl, the American Bowl in Japan, and many playoff and championship games.  He was an alternate for Super Bowl XXIX. 

Rex served as Treasurer for several years in the Professional Football Referees Association.

Rex also officiated in the World League for a season and umpired the first World Bowl in London, England.

After retiring from the field, Rex continued to serve the NFL as an instant replay official for seven years.  Again, he excelled and officiated Super Bowl XXXVII.  He is famous for the Tuck Rule call he made on January 19, 2002 during a blizzard at Foxboro Stadium between the Patriots and Raiders.   

While Rex loved football, he loved his family more.  He was a very involved and supportive father.  He attended the girls’ every performance, school program, recital, and horse show.  He was their biggest cheerleader.  Rex was a generous man who not only made sure his wife and daughters were spoiled, but also taught his girls the rules for the game of life. 

Rex was also a gifted motivational speaker.  He spoke at many sports banquets, civic groups and youth groups.  He was humbled to be inducted into the Lincoln County Sports Hall of Fame.  He loved going back to Lincolnton or “God’s Country” as he liked to call it.

Rex was a great animal lover.  He might remove a snake from the premises, but he would never kill one.  Any dog was his best friend, and he fell in love with horses when Mary Kaitland started riding.  In lieu of flowers, he requests donations be made to the SPCA of Wake County.

Rex was an active member of Bayleaf Baptist Church and was baptized there with Kara on the same day.  He enjoyed singing in the choir during the “off-season.”  He was a member of the Joy IV Sunday School Class, and the family wishes to thank the members for all the support and love especially during his declining years.  Many thanks to Don Gilbert who ministered to Rex faithfully and joyfully through visits, phone calls, and the sharing of many meals – there is no one like you.

The family wishes to express their deepest appreciation to the staff at Sunrise at North Hills Senior Living for their wonderful care of Rex for the past 2 ½ years.  Rex enjoyed the activities, food, and friends he made there.  Many thanks to Transitions for their devotion and tender care for the last four months of Rex’s life.

Rex often said, “What you are is God’s gift to you.  What you become is your gift to God.”  Rex became a man of humility and faith.  Thanks to God for the life of John Rex Stuart.  He is out of the wheelchair and is walking again with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

Funeral services will be held at 1:00 pm Friday, March 9, 2018 at Bay Leaf Baptist Church, 12200 Bayleaf Church Rd, Raleigh. Visitation will take place from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm prior to the service. Burial will follow in the church cemetery.


Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"