Aug. 16, 1936-July 8, 2013: MISSOULA – Dr. John Lee Swanson, 76, of Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley, died unexpectedly in the arms of his wife Deirdre of an inoperable dissected aorta at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula on Monday, July 8, 2013. He was active and happy, and planning golf dates and his annual trip to Scotland until the day he died.
John was born in Hastings, Neb., the only child of Frieda Opal and Art Swanson, on Aug. 16, 1936. He graduated from Hastings High School, where he was salutatorian and starred in basketball and baseball. He attended Hastings College and the University of Nebraska, and went on to earn M.S. and M.D. degrees from the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in Omaha. He interned at University Hospital in Omaha and completed a residency in anatomical pathology at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966.
In the U.S. Army, John served at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. It was at Walter Reed that he began a long and distinguished research career in microbiology. He was honorably discharged from the Army, with the rank of captain, in 1968.
John then worked at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City; at Mount Sinai School of Medicine; and as a professor in the Pathology and Microbiology Departments at the University of Utah College of Medicine.
In 1979, John began to live in and love western Montana. The National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton recruited John to organize the Laboratory of Microbial Structure and Function. He was chief of that lab and worked there for more than 20 years. The Rocky Mountain Labs credit John with starting internationally recognized programs on the pathogens that cause a variety of infectious diseases. John was known as a meticulous scientific investigator, great mentor and rigorous reviewer of manuscripts.
John recently moved from Hamilton, where he had lived for 34 years, and was living with wife Deirdre in Stevensville and Missoula. While still in Hamilton, John volunteered at the Ravalli Recycling Center, fulfilling his childhood desire to become a garbage man and giving him a chance to make a meaningful impact on the environment at a local level. He and Deirdre traveled to Scotland annually, and last year John celebrated his 50th medical school graduation anniversary at a three-day reunion with colleagues in Omaha.
John was a great supporter of the arts, often attending concerts and performances in Hamilton, Missoula and Scotland. He listened daily to local public radio and volunteered at Montana Public Radio pledge drives. John loved single-malt whiskey and craft beer. He delighted in filling growlers from local breweries and sharing his favorites with family and friends. John had a great interest in and love for the game of golf for the last 15 years of his life; he often golfed when no one else would. He golfed in Hamilton, Missoula, Scotland, England, Sweden, France and Mexico.
John is survived by his wife, Deirdre Swanson of Stevensville and Missoula; his four children whom he had with his first wife Barbara Kelley, Elizabeth Swanson (David Zimelis) of Los Angeles, Eric Swanson (Virginia Bullock and daughter Grace) of West Roxbury, Mass., Karl Swanson of Santa Barbara, Calif., and Sara Swanson of Hyde Park, Mass.; stepson, Niall Boggs, son of wife Deirdre, (Kayley and daughter Georgia) of Bend, Ore.; the sons of his second wife Christine Ingeborg Swanson, Peter Andrew Benson (Tina Karlsson) of Boulder, Utah, Eric Arthur Benson (Susan) of Seattle and Jon Bray (Alyssa) of Salt Lake City; along with many in-laws whom he held dear.
A memorial gathering will be held outdoors at 311 Church St. in Stevensville, beginning at 10:30 a.m., on Sunday, July 28. Thoughts and memories of John will be shared and light refreshments will be served.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that contributions in memory of John be made to any one of three nonprofits that provided John with joy: Montana Public Radio, University of Montana, 32 Campus Drive – 8064, Missoula, MT 59812; the Bitterroot Performing Arts Council, 610 N. First St., Suite 5-220, Hamilton, MT 59840; or Ravalli County Recycling Inc., 607 Grantsdale Road, Hamilton, MT 59840.