Former managing director of American Lung Association, dies at 92
James A. Swomley (Jim), who served as managing director of the American Lung Association from 1980-90, died Monday, April 5, 2021 in Bloomfield, Connecticut, at the age of 92, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on Jan. 1, 1929, he was the son of John and Florence (Forsythe) Swomley.
Mr. Swomley attended high school in Lower Paxton Township, Pennsylvania and graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University where he was a standout runner, winning the Ohio Conference cross country championship in his senior year. Upon graduation, Mr. Swomley accepted a fellowship from the National Anti-Tuberculosis Association (now the American Lung Association), to study at Wayne State University where he earned a master’s degree in health administration. Mr. Swomley then joined the North Dakota Anti-Tuberculosis Association as a field agent and a year later, in 1951, became executive director of the organization. In 1957 he was appointed Executive Director of the Connecticut Tuberculosis and Health Association where he worked until 1980, when he was appointed managing director of the American Lung Association.
Mr. Swomley drew strength from engaging in the process of social and political change with a number of notable successes. In 1977, on his first day as a freshman legislator in the Connecticut State Assembly, he introduced, against the wishes of his leadership, a House rule to eliminate smoking in the Capitol chamber, the first ban of its kind in the nation. The vote carried in the House with the Senate following suit upon hearing of the House’s action. When C. Everett Koop was confirmed as surgeon general in 1982, the Reagan administration and many conservative politicians assumed he would support the tobacco industry. Recruited to speak at the ALA annual meeting, Koop flew directly from meetings in Moscow to the ALA forum in Florida so tobacco supporters in the Administration and in Congress would not have time to learn of his intentions and stop him. He called for a smoke-free U.S. society at that meeting. In 1982, the ALA established a full-time lobbying office in Washington to increase the organization’s influence with Congress. The office worked in concert with the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society to provide a counterbalance to the lobbying efforts of the tobacco industry and provided frequent testimony to congressional committees.
During his tenure as managing director of the ALA, the organization grew steadily, surpassing $100 million in revenue in the mid-1980s. During that time, Mr. Swomley sought to maintain the affiliation of the American Thoracic Society which he felt was important to the strength of both organizations. He supported funding for the startup of the American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology by the ATC, which launched successfully in 1985 and is now a leading peer-reviewed journal of thoracic medicine in the United States.
During the 1980s, the Lung Association funded research into the effects of second-hand smoke, which contributed to a changing climate in the United States toward smoking and led to bans on smoking in many public places in the late 1980s and early 1990s. While he retired before the landmark tobacco settlement of 1998, Swomley was sanguine about the future, because of the many good and dedicated people he had worked with during his 40-year career at ALA, and their ongoing commitment to fund good science, to provide accurate information to those involved in the political process and to provide transparency to the wider population on issues affecting lung health.
Mr. Swomley gave generously of his time to many other organizations throughout his career. In 1951, he participated in the founding of the North Dakota Mental Health Association, which he then served as executive secretary and then as president. As president, he wrote the introduction to a photo-journal depicting the deplorable conditions at the state mental hospital in Jamestown. The efforts of the association contributed to additional state funding for the hospital.
Mr. Swomley was a member of the Bloomfield, Connecticut, Board of Education for four years and the Bloomfield Town Council for six years. He served as secretary of Connecticut’s Board of Health and as chairman of the Council on Tuberculosis Control, Hospital Care and Rehabilitation which oversaw three hospitals operated by the Connecticut State Department of Health. He was chairman of a committee that developed a school integration program for Bloomfield which resulted in its selection as an All-American City by Look magazine and the National Municipal League. He served in the Connecticut state legislature from 1977-80.
While managing director of the American Lung Association, Mr. Swomley served as president of the National Health Council from 1983-85, an umbrella organization of U.S. health care agencies. He served as president of the Paris-based International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease from 1986-90.
Before retiring from ALA, Mr. Swomley chaired the World Conference on Lung Health held in Boston, Massachusetts, in May of 1990. The conference brought together global health leaders, ALA staff and 8,000 pulmonary physicians from around the world for presentations of scientific papers and public health planning sessions.
While his professional accomplishments were many and his schedule hectic, Jim was also a committed husband and father. He enjoyed weekends with his family at their vacation home in Chester, Vermont, summer road-trip vacations, watching his sons at school competitions, and in retirement, traveling with his wife, June. He modeled the values of honesty, integrity and hard work in his life and he will be dearly missed.
Mr. Swomley is survived by his wife of 67 years, June; his three sons and their wives, Mark and Maria of York, Pa., Bruce and Emily of Thetford, Vt., and Dan and Kelly of Highlands Ranch, Colo.; and ten grandchildren.
He was predeceased by his parents, his brother, John Jr., and his sisters, Jean and Dorothy.
Funeral services for Mr. Swomley will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the American Lung Association of CT, 45 Ash St., E. Hartford, CT 06108.
To leave a message of condolence for his family, please visit www.carmonfuneralhome.com.
Published by The Bismarck Tribune on Apr. 10, 2021.