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Celebrating the leadership, vision, tenacity, and love of community shared by the recipients of the Great Living Cincinnatian Award, presented annually by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber since 1967.
1907 – 2011
While J. Mack Swigert’s career will always be defined by his handiwork on the Taft-Hartley Act – historic labor legislation passed in 1947 – it’s his adventurous spirit that truly defines the man.
When he left Des Moines, Iowa, for Harvard in 1927, rather than book a train direct to Boston he took a train through Washington, D.C., and New York City, with stopovers in both. And when it came to writing his thesis on China while at Harvard, he bypassed the library to hitch a ride on a freighter leaving San Francisco for southern Manchuria.
On its way over, the freighter endured a typhoon. “It was a very wild trip,” Swigert recalls.
Mack Swigert was born Septemer 25, 1907. And at age 97, the still spry Swigert still trekked daily to his office at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister in the US Bank building in Downtown Cincinnati.
The drafting of the Taft-Hartley Act – at the request of U.S. Sen. Robert A. Taft in 1946 – is Swigert’s most enduring legacy. Officially called the National Labor-Management Relations Act, the Taft-Hartley Act was enacted over President Truman’s veto.
Swigert, then a young associate at TS&H, was summoned to a Capitol Hill restaurant by Sen. Taft – chair of the Labor and Education Committee in the Senate – to draft legislation to stem the industry-crippling strikes that rocked the nation under the 1935 Wagner Act.
“The (Wagner) act has some good features,” Swigert told Sen. Taft at the dinner meeting. “Just a few key changes here and there would accomplish what you want to do.” Though long credited with drafting the legislation, Swigert points out it was Sen. Taft’s political muscle that reversed the New Deal dominance of labor unions. “Nothing could have been passed without him,” Swigert said of Sen. Taft. “He was a genius.”
Ironically, as a collegian, Swigert didn’t aspire to be a lawyer. “I was talked into law school by my wife Alice and friend Ed Rowe,” he recalls. “It never occurred to me to enter law school.”
Swigert met his late wife Alice in 1930 when the Harvard senior stopped to visit his parents in Johnson City, TN. He proposed just days after meeting her at a New Year’s Eve celebration there. “When she walked into the room, I thought, ‘Wow!’” he said with a gleam. They married a year later. At the prompting of his new bride, Swigert entered Harvard Law School and graduated in 1935.
Following a brief stint as an attorney in Chicago in 1936, Swigert was lured to Cincinnati by a higher-paying position at TS&H. “Charlie Taft called and asked if I was still interested in coming to Cincinnati,” Swigert said. “He offered more, so here I am.”
Swigert became involved in labor law when a strike occurred at a Norwood plant and he was sent by John Clippinger to sit in on the heated hearing. Soon he became known as the labor law specialist at TS&H.
Swigert served as an associate in the law firm’s Labor Department from 1936 to 1948, when he was named partner. In 1979 he was named managing partner and chairman of the Executive Committee, posts he held until 1986. He retained the title “Of Counsel” with the firm through 2005.
In 2002 he received the Lifetime Achievement in Law honor from the Cincinnati Bar Foundation.
An ardent sportsman, Swigert served as president of the Cincinnati Tennis Club and as past vice president and director of the Cincinnati Country Club. He was a past president of the Queen City Optimists Club, the Harvard Law Club and the Recess Club, a past director of the Queen City Club, former board member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a past president of the American Music Scholarship Association.
An Eden Park resident, Swigert had two children – David in Colorado and Sally in New York City – and five grandchildren. A son, Oliver, died in July, 2003, of ALS.
Swigert credits much of his success to his late wife, who co-founded New Life for Girls, which later became Lighthouse Youth Services – and, whose accomplishments Cincinnati Mayor David Mann celebrated on July 16, 1982, as “Alice H. Swigert Day.” His office walls were testimony to his enduring affection, with photos of their travels to Portugal, Hong Kong, Switzerland other exotic locations.
Of his Great Living Cincinnatian honor, Swigert said, “I was very pleased, of course – surprised and pleased. It never occurred they would want to name me.”
J. Mack Swigert died on Friday, April 15, 2011. He was 103.
Recipients are selected from candidates by the Cincinnati Chamber’s senior council based on the following criteria: – Community service – Business and civic attainment on a local, state and national or international level – Leadership – Awareness of the needs of others – Distinctive accomplishments that have brought favorable attention to their community, institution or organization