U alum

Jeremy Taff

Joining the ranks of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former University Vice President for Institutional Relations Tom Swain received an honorary degree Thursday night at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum.
Albright received the honor, called an honorary doctor of laws degree, during her speech at the College of Liberal Arts commencement ceremony last June. About one or two are given out each year.
“I’m humbled and flattered,” Swain said. “This honor is normally associated with scholars and intelligence, and that isn’t me.”
Swain has been active in the University since receiving his bachelor’s degree here in 1942.
“This sends a signal to others in the community who are getting out there and helping their neighbors, making this a better place to be,” Swain said. “The University is prepared to salute you.”
Swain, 77, took over as head of Institutional Relations in 1996, while the tenure debate was near its boiling point and regents were scrambling to find a new leader for the University.
“He’s been kind of the glue through the transition of the two presidents,” Regent David Metzen said.
Others who have worked with him through the years stressed Swain’s strength in troublesome times. Patricia Johnson took over for Swain after he resigned as president for the State Fund Mutual Insurance Company to work for the University.
“Tom is a great leader at whatever he does, but he is truly extraordinary in difficult times and circumstances,” Johnson said. “He leads by example with the power of his ideals, the skill of a practical, discerning mind and the patience and persistence of one always prepared to go the distance.”
Swain’s journey to the University took a varied course. He worked as convention bureau manager for the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, executive director of the Minnesota Statehood Centennial Commission, chief of staff for Gov. Elmer Andersen and executive vice president for the St. Paul Companies before coming to the University. Swain also served on several state and national boards.
Although he officially retired in 1986, Swain went back to work full-time twice: for State Fund Mutual Insurance Company in 1992 and for the University during the last year of President Nils Hasselmo’s term in 1996.
“He’s my hero,” Metzen said. “He’s a great example of how to give back to a community and to a state and how to stay young as we all grow older.”
University President Mark Yudof said Swain’s energy never faltered in the more than 50 years he’s supported the University.
“I kept stalling as long as I could about getting a replacement for Tom,” University President Mark Yudof said. “For Tom it’s really more than public service. It’s a lifetime achievement.”