Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Remembering Judge Dick Swain with fondness

When we lose a special friend, we all have our own ways of remembering that person.

They may be small things we have done together, situations we have experienced or small crises we endured.

For me, such remembrances tend to lean toward off-the-beaten-track experiences that others may not understand — or, if they do, don’t remember in the same way I do.

Around Mentor, most people remember Dick Swain as a very competent but often impatient Municipal Court judge who was irritated by fools, as a very loyal member of the Rotary Club (and I will add, the Painesville GYRO club), and as a man who dedicated much of his life to helping others. These were usually impoverished folks whose circumstances were deplorable and to whom Dick was a knight in shining armor who arrived with a saw and a toolbox and whose good deeds changed their lives for the better.

But I don’t remember him for those things because, for the most part, I wasn’t there.

I was never in his courtroom, and I never accompanied him on one of his humanitarian trips.

Oh, I have been at a number of GYRO meetings with him, but I especially remember the twice-a-month picnics in the summertime, because Susan would be with him then, and if Dick could light up a room by entering it, she could really turn the lights on.

But my most enduring memories of him go back to our days of Monday Night Football (he would analyze every play), when the guys would take turns hosting the event and furnishing the food.

Over the years, there must have been at least three dozen guys who were involved in MNF. Dick had sumptuous repasts in his rec room on Maple Street, but he didn’t do the cooking. The spreads of food were similar to those at the home of the late John Macso and his wife Lori, because she could make you forget that you came to watch football and not merely to eat.

I particularly remember a Monday night at a previous home of Dick’s (I think it was on Canterbury), because it was the night before a November election, and Dennis Eckart was running for re-election to Congress.

“Watch,” Dennis said. “About midnight, Margaret (I forget her last name) will come on, wearing her red dress, and tell you what a terrible job I am doing, and tell you why she should take my place in Congress.”

Dennis was only off by a couple of minutes. He explained that TV rates were cheaper after midnight.

Another fond memory I have regarding Dick was the time he was picketed in front of his courtroom because of something he said that was in the paper.

The story said, about an abused wife, that she shared “some culpability.” Well, Dick always maintained that his comments were taken out of context. “I’m trying to keep people from coming back in here. I was not criticizing her,” he said at the time.

But the headline brought a picket line in front of City Hall, where the court is located.

A bunch of women were circling the area, waving signs.

I recognized one of the pickets as another congressional candidate, a woman who often ran against Steve
LaTourette when he was in Congress.

I had been at a meeting at City Hall with another Great American, the late attorney Barry Byron, and we approached the pickets to see what they were up to.

“Elizabeth,” I said to the perennial candidate, “what are you doing here.”

“Jim,” she replied, “I never pass up a good protest.”

If the judge had any idea what was going on outside his courtroom, he never let on.

Dick Swain earned high marks for everything he did in life, from sitting on the bench of justice to his fine deeds in the community as well as to helping the unfortunates among us.

His desired final resting place at his summer home in Big Moose Lake, N.Y., will mark a fitting end to a life well-lived and testify to a fine reputation richly deserved.

The stunning array of black-robed fellow jurists at his services at the Methodist Church in Mentor attests to that reputation.



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