Mack Swift spanned the generations during his years working with young people. At no time was that more evident than this week when on Wednesday a flurry of phone calls connected some generational dots when news of his death began circulating in the Staunton area. He died in Tennessee, where he was born, while visiting his sister because their birthdays were close together (he had just turned 73).
I knew Mr. Swift from his years teaching and coaching football while I was a student at Huguenot High School in Richmond, Virginia, in the 1970s, as did Bob Stuart, a fellow Huguenot alumnus and political reporter at the News-Virginian. Both of us grew up in the Bon Air area of Chesterfield County outside Richmond and graduated together from Huguenot, and we both lived out of state for a number of years before eventually returning home to Virginia and settling in the Shenandoah Valley.
Somewhere along the way, Mr. Swift also moved to the Valley and began teaching at Lee High School and Riverheads High School and reaching my children’s generation while his wife taught at McSwain Elementary School. He also was very involved in the arts community, Oak Grover Theater, and storytelling where he became known as “Mountain Mack.” As Mountain Mack, he and wife Joan entertained countless visitors to Shenandoah National Park each summer at the rustic resorts Big Meadows and Skyland. In this YouTube video, Mack and Joan shared one of their “Jack Tales” circa 2003.
The Swifts celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August 2013. They married after meeting while attending Emory and Henry College, and both shared in the joy of storytelling.
Mr. Swift’s former students left messages on Facebook about the man who had touched their lives. Some were very poignant like this one from Staunton native Alex Davis who was very involved with the drama department at Lee High School where Mr. Swift had produced many theater shows:
Mountain Mack! Buddy, I will miss you. You inspired my generation beginning in elementary school, made us laugh in middle school, taught us in high school and college, and in between it all – gave us something to aspire to as we discovered our passion for the theatre. You were a brilliant and hilarious teacher, a laugh-until-I’d-think-I-was-dying storyteller and actor, and a wonderful friend. I am so thankful for that. From first hearing you weave your Jack Tales in McSwain’s library to learning from you as a young actor in Wizard of Oz, Grease, and Robber’s Bridegroom, one thing I know for sure: Mack Swift, you will always be remembered as the Valley’s most beloved storyteller.
Another Facebook friend, Valerie Paquet, remembered him with sad fondness:
You will be missed Mr. Swift! If it wasn’t for you, I would have never fallen in love with history. Your kind words about growing as an adult changed my life.
It’s obvious Mack Swift touched the lives of many young people throughout his many years of teaching. That’s a legacy worth having.
A Celebration of Mack’s life will be at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Sunday, May 25, 2014, at 5 p.m. His family will receive friends Saturday, May 24, 2014 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Coffman Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, the family would be pleased for donations to be sent to the Memorial Garden of Covenant Presbyterian Church, 2001 N. Coalter Street, Staunton, Virginia. 24401; Oak Grove Theater, Post Office Box 3040, Staunton, Virginia, 24402, or the Presbyterian Children’s Home, 425 Grayson Road, Wytheville, Virginia 24382.
Arrangements are being handled by Coffman Funeral Home, 230 Frontier Drive, Staunton is in charge of his arrangements. Condolences may be expressed to the family online at http://www.coffmanfuneralhome.net. See Mack Swift’s obituary in the Staunton News Leader.