The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Retired mayor recounts early experience


February 8, 2018

Diana Zimmerman

Former Mayor and Town Councilman Dick Swart retired from several decades of public service at the beginning of this year. These days, after being hit by a car, he's trying to manage his pain while hanging out with his cats and reading good (and not so good) books.

After many years of public service, former Mayor Dick Swart decided to retire from the town council at the end of 2017. On Monday, he talked to Eagle reporter Diana Zimmerman about how he got his start and how he's doing now.

After college and two years in the Navy Reserves, Swart put his name into a management trainee pool in California.

"That was something that was used by all the California departments to check out individuals who might have some potential for becoming leaders," Swart said. "I started out with the California Personnel Board. The people who were the leaders there decided I was on a quick path to law enforcement."

Partly, he said, because he didn't have a beard. At the time, it meant he was trustworthy.

He was selected by the Chief of the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement whose goal was to catch drug dealers.

"They told me to put on some scruffy clothes," Swart said of one of his early days in the department. His boss said that one of the agents would be taking him to a place they had been watching in downtown Los Angeles.

"I was probably the best dressed scruffy person there," Swart laughed. "We went into this dive bar and ordered whatever the beer du jour was and sat at the end. The people that were sitting at the bar started whispering amongst themselves and got up and left. The bartender was not pleased and thanked me for running off his customers."

Later, the agent told the boss that Swart wasn't cut out for field work.

What had he done wrong? He'd acted like a cop.

"The agent told me, 'You looked at everybody in the room, straight in the eye, you kept watching everybody in the room. You can't do that stuff when you are in the field. It's just too off putting to the people that we are interested in.'"

Swart, beardless, really did look trustworthy. Too trustworthy.

So he asked the chief if he should return to the management trainee pool and try something else. The boss said no, and off Swart went to get his law enforcement credentials.

It turns out his boss had other plans for him.

"I was told I did pretty well," Swart said. "I was deemed passable and according to the Peace Officers Standards in Training department, I was qualified."

Still, he was even more certain he was unsuitable for undercover work and wondered what was next.

His chief told him: "You are going to report to me, and you are going to help me write our budgets and justify our proposals to the legislature. It's difficult to get people on staff who think that is interesting. They are all cowboys. Can you do it?"

"I can do a great job," Swart told him.

Swart met then Governor Ronald Reagan, when he joined a group that was tackling the drug problem.

"My boss said not to screw it up," Swart laughed.

It turns out that Reagan used jelly beans as a test of character.

"If he offers you his jelly bean jar, don't turn him down," warned his boss. "Whatever you do, do not pick your favorite color or flavor."

The moment arrived.

"Reagan had a smile on his face," Swart said. "He asked if I would like some. I watched the chief and did what he did. I just took a small handful."

"You know," Reagan said after, "I'm glad you came in here. You can tell a lot about a man by how he deals with the jelly beans. If someone comes in here and starts picking out all the cherries or the licorice, I never want to see him again. A trustworthy man just grabs a handful."

"I later learned that that was not atypical of Reagan," Swart said.

Swart worked for the State of California for 24 years, writing legislation and analyzing bills. He met with legislators and their staff, and worked for several governors.

One governor called him in on Thanksgiving Day to go over the justice department's budget.

"My impression when we got there is that the governor and his staff had been on a bender," Swart said. "My boss, and his boss, the attorney general, had been called in. I thought, if this were a herpetarium, these snakes would be biting each other. Everyone was angry. I've never seen anything like it."

In later years, Swart said, the legislature decided to separate the prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug abuse from the justice department.

"I was hauled along to be part of the senior staff of the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs," Swart said.

While there, he helped bring down three physicians who were selling pain killers to their patients, an achievement that makes him especially proud of his time in law enforcement.

"I had formed a team--an auditor, a nurse, and a peace officer. They would go out as a trio and do inspections," Swart said. "It caused a lot of confusion for these doctors. That was probably a major achievement for me in that bureau, getting three different disciplines to work together, people that didn't normally talk to each other."

After his tenure in California, he managed social workers for the Oregon Department of Health for 10 years. He also became a Clatsop County commissioner.

When Swart and his wife fell in love with a house in Cathlamet, he resigned from his responsibilities in the northwestern-most county in Oregon, and made Wahkiakum County their home.

A life in public service was hard to give up, and when he was asked, he happily stepped up again."I think you could say I was recruited by a former county commissioner," Swart said. "And then Mark Linquist really pushed me to get involved."

He was on several committees. In 2004, he joined the town council.

When former Mayor Bob Rendler resigned, Swart was encouraged by his colleagues to become acting mayor.

He then agreed to run for one term, and eventually served four and a half years as the mayor of Cathlamet.

"I told everybody, I've been asked to run for mayor to help accomplish some things but I don't consider this a career option for myself, so I will serve one term if elected," Swart said. "Somebody else needs to be thinking about succeeding my term. [Eagle publisher] Rick Nelson was astonished. 'Why would you say such a thing?' he asked me. 'Of course you want to run for more terms.' No, I didn't, and for two reasons. I did not become the mayor because I wanted to. The second reason is that Dixie, my late wife, was really unhappy. She did not want me to get into it.

"'You have always been drawn into political activities,' she told me, 'we're supposed to be retired. Come on!'" She also said, "If you decide you want to run for another term, I will support whoever is opposing you."

Swart is in a lot of pain these days, but he's making the best of it.

A little over a year ago, he was in Longview to give a presentation on Revolutionary War era Navy activity to the Daughters of the American Revolution. Afterwards, he was crossing Third Avenue to get to his car, parked on the other side. He watched the light change at the intersection and saw that there was no traffic coming from either direction.

What he didn't see was a man tear out of a nearby parking lot and straight into him.

Swart was on the ground, and the man was standing over him saying "Oh my God," over and over. In pain, Swart asked the man to flag down traffic lest they both get killed.

By this time, the members of the DAR had noticed what had happened and called 911.

"I went to a couple clinics hoping they would say they had a procedure to help me," Swart said. "Actually I was impressed by their honesty. They said there was nothing they could do."

Swart's fourth lumbar vertebrae is cracked.

He can no longer sleep in bed and spends most of his time in his favorite chair, grappling with the pain. He is reading a lot of "large, heavy books" that friends bring him, and listens to music, or enjoys time with his two cats.

He's reading a book about Leonardo daVinci right now.

"It's well made, with thick pages and easy to read type," Swart said. "There are a lot of prints of most of his art work-ones I've heard of and some I hadn't."

He's also reading a biography of Ulysses Grant.

"Goodness, what a slog that is!" Swart laughed. "If I'm having trouble sleeping, I work on that. Plus I know how it ends."


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