Former U.S. Rep. Al Swift dies at age 82

By Brandon Gustafson | Apr 25, 2018
Courtesy of: U.S. Congress Al Swift, former U.S. Congressman, passed away last Friday at 82.

Former U.S. Rep. Al Swift passed away last Friday, April 20, at 82, of natural causes in Alexandria, Virginia.

Swift was an Emmy award-winning broadcaster before trying his hand in politics. Swift, a Democrat,  represented the 2nd Congressional District in Washington, which includes Mukilteo, for eight terms. He started in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979 and served until his retirement in 1995.

Swift was born on Sept. 12, 1935, in Tacoma, and earned a bachelor's degree from the Central Washington College of Education in 1957.

Swift’s first career was in broadcasting, starting in radio, then as news director for KVOS-TV in Bellingham. He also worked at KUJ in Walla Walla and KXLE in Ellensburg.

He was often seen with a cigar in hand, and was known for his humorous storytelling.

Swift succeeded Lloyd Meeds as the representative of the 2nd Congressional District.

Swift served as the top aide to Meeds from 1965 to 1969.

Swift authored and led the passage of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, commonly referred to as the “motor-voter” law, which expanded voter registration options nationwide.

Former Mukilteo Mayor Brian Sullivan interned for Swift in 1985 and said he will greatly miss him.

“I was an unpaid intern, and I drove him everywhere and never got gas money from him,” Sullivan said laughing. “Last year, we had a beer and cigar at Sully’s. He told all the same stories he told me in the ‘80s. He was a good man.”

Sullivan said Swift was very good with people and was very charismatic.

“He spoke in such a way that you couldn’t help but like him,” Sullivan said. “We knew him first as a TV personality from his work up in Bellingham, but he was such a character and such a great guy. He worked hard for his state and for this district.”

Sullivan said when Swift would get burned out campaigning, he would visit Sullivan’s first restaurant, Riley’s Pizza, and have beer and nachos.

“He had this aide who would call me and ask me if he was there, and I would look out at this restaurant that was empty aside from Al Swift and his plate of nachos, and I’d tell him, ‘Nope, I haven’t seen him!’”

Sullivan said one of Swift’s best traits was how personable he was.

“He was a congressman who would become your friend,” Sullivan said. “So many politicians will go shake your hand and be looking over your shoulder to see what’s next, but he’d make sure to remember your name.”

One of Sullivan’s fondest memories of Swift was when Sullivan was serving as mayor of Mukilteo and had a meeting at Swift’s office.

“I had this meeting set up with him, and all these guys from the VFW come in and basically stalled the meeting and ended up presenting for about two hours,” Sullivan said. “I ended up falling asleep, and someone took a photo and he signed it and said, ‘I put another mayor to sleep.’”

Sullivan said he last saw Swift about a year ago, when they enjoyed a beer and a cigar.

“With Al, you have to smoke a cigar with him,” Sullivan said. “We told old ‘war stories.’ He was a great man, and I’m going to miss him. I wanted to visit him one more time next year, but unfortunately I won’t have that opportunity.”

According to Swift’s brother Larry, the Methodist Church was incredibly important to Al and the entire Swift family.

“We grew up in a family with very clear standards, drawn from the Methodist Church,” Larry Swift said. “Our dad was a truck driver for Coca Cola, and turned down a job driving for Heidelberg at twice the salary because our parents didn’t think it would send the right message to us. Neither my brother nor I were believers in the conventional meaning, but the core values of our parents were central to Al’s world view – compassion, a sense of justice and fairness – the kind of values that it takes for a society to live together peacefully.”

Rick Larsen, who currently serves as the representative for the 2nd Congressional District, had nothing but praise for Swift.

“Al Swift served Washington state with distinction and honor,” Larsen said. “He was a trusted friend and invaluable mentor to me during my time in Congress. His legacy includes protecting voting rights and the environment, issues that still remain important to the 2nd District. I will greatly miss him.”

Larsen said he would often go to Swift for advice in representing the same district he once had.

“Having served during a time when the U.S. was challenged by war, passed landmark environmental legislation, challenged a sitting president, and worked with Democratic and Republican administrations, he had much to offer to anyone who would ask,” Larsen said. “When asking me which district I represent, people used to ask if I was in the ‘Al Swift seat.’ Even today, my answer is still a proud ‘Yes.’”

Derek Kilmer, who represents the 6th Congressional District in Washington, said Swift was the first politician he had ever met.

"Al Swift was the first elected official I remember meeting as a kid,” Kilmer said. “I was probably 7 or 8 years old, and I remember him telling me a joke (the first of many in the nearly four decades since. The jokes got a bit more mature as I did).

“At 19, I interned in his office. Not only did he instill in me the value of public service, he taught me something I’ll never forget. On the last day of the internship, he invited me into his office and said, 'I’m now going to teach you the most important lesson of this internship.'  I keenly waited on the edge of my seat as he opened his desk drawer and said, 'I’m going to teach you how to light and smoke a cigar.’”

Kilmer saw Swift as someone who was the epitome of a public servant.

“Beyond what he meant to me personally, Al Swift meant so much to so many of the people he represented,” Kilmer said. “Whether he was advocating for the economic needs of the Olympic Peninsula or working on infrastructure issues for the entire country, Al was the consummate public servant.

“It’s fitting that he started his career in broadcasting since he was such an important voice for so many people in our state who needed one. On behalf of my entire family, I can say that I will miss Al, but I’m glad he’s now with Paula."

Swift was married to his wife, Paula, for 56 years and they had two daughters, Amy and Lauri. Paula passed away in 2012.

Memorial services will be held on May 5 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Swift’s family is also planning a service in Washington later this summer.

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