For John Swanson, 1961-2014

Nicole Harris
January 22, 2014
THE TALK...

At the end of 2013, I visited the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. After wandering the grounds awhile, I walked inside and the first thing I saw was an exhibit called, At the Window: The Photographer's View. My first thought was, “I have to tell John about this.”

The photographs were evocative, funny, pensive, thoughtful and a little startling. Art is supposed to make you pause and reflect. These made me think about John.

Among the things I would have told him was, there were no door photos! As all who knew him know, John was a fenestration industry editor-advocate. Doors, he would repeat, are an integral part of the market we cover. He pushed us to remember that and so much more.

John's vision for the fenestration industry originates in a now-defunct magazine of that title. I first met John in 1993 at the interGLASSmetal/Fenestration World show when its official magazines, Glass Digest and fenestration, were owned by Ashlee Publishing in New York. As the new publisher of Glass Magazine, owned by the National Glass Association, my sales team and I were there early to set up our new booth in the "enemy camp."

Of course, I already knew of John Swanson, having studied fenestration’s well-established leadership; it was the only game in town. I soon spotted him in the middle of a show aisle, surrounded by several other people. What I didn’t know as I walked up to introduce myself was that these were among his many industry groupies, the work friends he would stop to talk to at every meeting and every trade show during his 26 years covering the industry.

I was struck instantly by his gentle, almost reserved response to my intrusion into this congenial gathering. John was never one to use his deep knowledge, his intelligence or even his physical height to intimidate, much less make anyone—even an erstwhile competitor—feel unwelcome.

This was two years before the National Glass Association bought what was to become Window & Door magazine and another two before John agreed to come work for us. His one condition: That he run the magazine working and living out of New York City. No problem, we said.

Eventually I came to know John's more unreserved, ‘Wild Turkey’ side and fully appreciate his often cryptic, dry sense of humor.

I visited John in the hospital in mid-December. It was no surprise to find his room a little crowded; this time, the “groupies” surrounding John were three of his University of Rochester friends. They had all worked together, including John’s wife, Lee, at the college newspaper. As he had done 20 years earlier, John made me feel welcome. His friends and I commiserated about the seismic changes in publishing. They shared stories and told me about when they found out that two among them—John and Lee—had secretly been dating awhile. They told me how surprised they were, and then how surprised they weren’t, and how happy they were for this couple “who belonged together.”

When I told Lee that the entire Window & Door team was in the Virginia office this week and planned to celebrate John by toasting him with his favorite drink, Lee wrote back to me with this:

Yes, let the Wild Turkey flow! Please tell everyone that he treasured being a part of this industry and working diligently in it for so many years. It was his great pleasure to meet so many people across the country who touched him with their hard work, perseverance and their realness. He was like them in those ways, and I think that's part of the reason people held him in such high regard. He also knew how to keep his mouth shut and listen - how great is that?

Great indeed. We’ll miss you, John.

The author is publisher of Window & Door and Glass Magazine and vice president of publications for the National Glass Association. Write her at nharris@glass.org.