Walter John Swift
August 11, 1920-March 10, 2002
A Celebration of Life

By Gordon Holsinger

On Sunday, March 10, 2002, the Sunbeam community lost a great friend. Walter John Swift (Uncle Wally) to many of us died while watching an autocross of an apparent heart attack.

Wally passed away on March 10, 2002 at 83 refusing to ever act his age. He died while autocrossing at the wheel of his Chrysler sponsored Neon. He simply drifted off to the side of the course. Adios friends. His time slip reads …… FTD.  We’ll miss you Wally.

Wally, the consummate promoter lived and died in tune with Frank Santra’s song titled “I did it my way”. Wally lived a passionate life for Chrysler and things Sunbeam right up to the second he left us. In fact, I am sure he left us this way just to promote one last event…his funeral. This funeral was a massive Wally world event. It was a potpourri of Family, Chrysler and Sunbeam family and friends. And he did it in style. His just resurrected Tiger appropriately served as the flower Car. Thanks to TEAE and others the well adorned car was towed by Wally’s son Jack to his final resting place. The Sunbeamer’s present gathered by the flower car for one final moment of reflection of what and how Wally influenced us and the marque. His will lives on in many of us.

Tiger Tom

I met Wally Swift in the early Spring of 1971 at an autocross, he was having problems with his Alpine and invited me to his home to take a look at it. That was the beginning of a thirty year friendship, and relationship as his Sunbeam mechanic. Wally was born in Jersey City NJ on August 11, 1920.

In WWII Wally served in the Army Air Corps where he was an aviation cadet. At the convenience of the Government the cadet program was terminated and Wally trained as an aerial gunner. He was never deployed overseas and was discharged at the cessation of hostilities. In 1944 he married Helen Pawowitz of Newark NJ whom he met at a basketball game. Wally is survived by his wife of 58 years Helen, his children, Jack, Patty, and Jeanne, two grandchildren, and five great grandchildren.

After WWII he held several jobs, one of those jobs as a sheet metal worker. In 1953 Wally went to work for Chrysler and held positions in a number of cities throughout the US, before living in Beltsville MD. One of the positions that he held was as Import Manager, when Chrysler owned Rootes, and Simca.

Wally’s Tiger was his company car. He took an early retirement from Chrysler in 1979. He stayed home for about a year and then in 1980 he went to work in Baltimore for Mitsubishi until 1985 when he reached 65. From 1985 until his death Wally worked for the Chrysler Dealers Association organizing and putting on car shows, in both Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. his final one being in Baltimore in February 2002.

Wally Swift in a group

Many members who didn’t know Wally as some of us will remember him as the enthusiastic old gentleman with the encyclopedic knowledge of Sunbeams and the really nice original Carnival Red Mark 1a Tiger, or as the “Old Guy” with the green Alpine that won the Keith Porter perpetual autocross trophy every year.

Wally was never one to place himself in the limelight. What many members don’t know is that Wally was one of the founding fathers of TEAE and served as a behind the scenes advisor to the Board of Directors. He would mentor many of the new Sunbeam owners in the Washington, D.C. area and would invite them to his home. Wally would never miss an opportunity to pass out membership information about TEAE.

Wally Swift with his Tiger
Wally Swift with his Tiger

Wally was a true competitor at heart and he loved autocrossing. I watched him beat the clock for 25 years with his Alpine. If he didn’t win his class he was in the top five. In the TEAE events he won the autocross trophy for something like ten years straight. In those events he not only beat all of the Alpines, but most, if not all of the Tigers!

At the United in Canada we arrived and Wally looked at me with a horrified look on his face and said “I forgot the Autocross trophy!” I looked squarely in the eyes and said “Well you will just have to win it again.” He did. Some years ago Wally had a minor heart attack. After months of taking it easy he asked his cardiologist if it would be OK for him to drive his car fast once in a while. His doctor asked him for how long? Wally replied “oh only for a minute or two”. His doctor said that won’t hurt anything. Wally never told him that the one or two minutes were autocrossing!

Traveling to and from events with Wally was always an adventure! When the United was in Huntsville, Wally had the Alpine on the trailer behind his van, I was driving his Tiger with 94,000 miles on the original clutch and Brian Boyer was in his Mk II Tiger. We got as far as Radford, Virginia. What broke down at 5:00PM? The van lost the pinion bearings in the rear end. If this had happened to anyone but Wally we would have been stranded, not Wally! He pulled off the highway and what sits at the bottom of the ramp but a Chrysler Plymouth dealer. Wally goes inside and the owner of the dealership knows Wally. The parts manager is dispatched to another dealer to get the pinion bearings, the chief mechanic calls his wife and tells her he will be late for dinner. At 7:30 we are on our way again. I guess being of Irish extraction helped.

On the way to Maine, Wally’s Tiger was in a collision and severely damaged. For the next year a feverish restoration took place. I disassembled the car, Brian Boyer provided a solid quarter panel, Phil Jones installed the sheet metal, and many other members provided many of the small bits and pieces to restore the car. The restoration was completed at the end of September 2001. Wally enjoyed his Tiger to the fullest extent last fall. He didn’t make it to the United last year because he didn’t think his Tiger was sorted out well enough.

Wally will be missed by all of us who knew him, he was a good friend, confidant, mentor, and autocross champion.

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