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From the first female governor to the next: Jane Swift has some advice for Maura Healey

“When the criticism comes ... see the kernels of truth,” says the former chief executive turned farmer.

Former Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift took her rescue animals out to a field at her home in Williamstown.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

On Jan. 5, Maura Healey will be sworn in as the first woman elected governor of Massachusetts. She won’t be the first woman to actually hold the office, however. Jane Swift broke that glass ceiling in 2001 when Governor Paul Cellucci resigned to become US ambassador to Canada, bumping Swift from lieutenant governor into the state’s top post.

“Unfortunately, though, it just felt for so long that whether there were cracks or the glass was broken, it seemed like it just sort of sealed right back up behind me,” Swift said.

Globe audio producer Jesse Remedios reports on how Massachusetts’ first woman governor is experiencing this moment of historic female leadership across the state, at a time when she’s also dealing with deeply personal transitions of her own: transforming her family farm in the Berkshires, and wrestling with grief. (Warning: explicit audio)

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Jane Swift took her rescue animals out to a field at her home. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff


Read the transcript:

Jesse Remedios: Former Governor Jane Swift used to call herself a “faux farmer.” But on this December day, standing in her black boots, black hat, and green coat, she looks pretty legit. And the barn full of chickens, a donkey, a mini-horse named Midnight, and the three rambunctious goats she feeds at the crack of dawn every morning — they certainly give her a farmer’s respect.

Jane Swift: No one loves me as much as those goats.

Jesse Remedios: Swift says her late husband, Chuck Hunt, was the real farmer. He grew up on Cobble Hill Farm here in Williamstown, which has been in his family for more than a century. And it was here, as Hunt tinkered away at a broken-down manure system that Swift first realized she was in love.

Jane Swift: He just had this smile on his face like he was radiant. And it hit me. I’m like, Oh my God, I’ve fallen in love with this guy who’s covered in shit.

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Jesse Remedios: Some listeners might remember Hunt because back in Swift’s days in the political spotlight, her family life got a lot of attention. In 1998, she was the pregnant candidate for lieutenant governor, married to a dairy farmer. In 2001, she became the first governor in US history to give birth while in office — to twins. Everybody seemed to have an opinion, especially the headline writers.

Framed photographs of Swift's family in the living room.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Jane Swift: “Jane Swift should put her children first.” “Super Moms Power Trip.” “Baby Gate won’t go away in Massachusetts.” “Why can’t governor be mommy?” That’s a great one. Plus, you got to love that beautiful picture, right? Is there a more unattractive picture?

Jesse Remedios: Swift says that at the time she couldn’t call out any of the sexism she faced because she felt like she had to prove she was tough enough to take it. She felt pressure being the first. And then for a while, a long while, responsibility for being the last. Now, with Maura Healey’s inauguration as governor, that’s no longer the case.

Jane Swift: It just felt for so long that whatever, whether they were cracks or the glass was broken, it seemed like it just sort of sealed right back up behind me. And I really did feel that weight. Like, did I do something wrong? And so that’s why I just, especially as the mother of three daughters on the precipice of their professional lives, it makes me so happy.

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Jesse Remedios: As Maura Healey prepares to be sworn in in January, Swift offers three pieces of advice. Or maybe, more friendly recommendations.

Jane Swift: Don’t take unsolicited advice. Take Sundays off, or find some solid rule. When the criticism comes, even the unfair criticism, it’s important to be able to see the kernels of truth within it. You know, when it comes and it’s a barrage, you can become really defensive and miss some good seeds of insight.

Jesse Remedios: Swift, who’s now 57, has worn many hats since leaving office in 2003: consultant, professor, education executive.

Jane Swift: Hey, guys.

Jesse Remedios: And now she’s in the midst of starting a new project of her own right here at Cobble Hill Farm.

Jane Swift worked on her computer in her kitchen.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Jane Swift: How are you? Drove by the driveway again today.

Jesse Remedios: Today she and her oldest daughter, Elizabeth, are working with a group of high school students who volunteer at the farm weekly.

Elizabeth Swift: Mom, you’ll show them how they de-ice?

Jane Swift: I’m just going to do.

Jesse Remedios: The kids sweep floors, collect eggs from the chicken coop, chit chat with the animals. They even help shovel out Willy the donkey’s lightly speckled barn stall.

Jane Swift: Willy’s ready to go out.

Jesse Remedios: It’s all part of Swift’s vision of turning the Hunt family farm into a local nonprofit. They’re calling it Cobble Hill Farm Education and Rescue Center. “Charm” for short.

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Jesse Remedios: On a recent Wednesday, Swift hosted fifth and sixth grade classes from Brayton School in North Adams, where her mom taught kindergarten, and just two miles from her childhood home.

Jane Swift: It was the first field trip those kids have been on since COVID. And to see them with these animals, that’s the dream.

Jesse Remedios: In many ways, this new venture is the perfect marriage of Swift’s personal and professional lives, using her family’s farm to serve underprivileged students from her hometown.

Jane Swift: This is the piece that’s so exciting to me. Like, this is why I got into politics. This is what led me into education was to create educational opportunity for the school system I attended. And post-COVID, the need is greater than ever.

Jesse Remedios: And to a mother who raised three girls on a farm, the educational benefits are apparent.

Jane Swift: The responsibility for another being and what it teaches you about yourself, but also what it teaches you about the world around you, I think is something that you can’t replicate in most other settings, including like sometimes horses die and sometimes sad things happen and we just keep, you know, circle of life.

Jesse Remedios: That lesson has never been more real for Swift and her girls. In December 2021, Chuck Hunt died of complications from kidney disease. He was 67 years old.

Jane Swift: And we knew for a long time, and I have this North Adams curse of being so practical. But it’s just hard.

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Jesse Remedios: Hunt, who became a full-time dad to support his wife’s political career, was the inspiration behind Swift’s new project. She drew on seeing how his work on the farm instilled a deep sense of purpose in his life.

Jane Swift: He grew up in this beautiful place, but he did not always have a beautiful life. That’s what I’ll say. We had the same values and we cared about the same things. And this farm is the way to keep working toward those goals.

Jesse Remedios: What do you think he would say about about Charm?

Jane Swift: Well, when I’m out there and it’s like cold as shit and I’m like questioning my sanity, I can hear him laughing at me. And the girls were saying the other day, he had this great laugh, but he used it sparsely and every once in a while — like he never wanted goats. And I was like, Why no goats? And when the goat got into the neighbor’s kitchen, it’s like, all right, there is the answer to that question. I understand why no goats.

Jesse Remedios: For The Boston Globe, I’m Jesse Remedios.

Jane Swift in her barn with her hen, Ruth Bader Ginsbird.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Jesse Remedios can be reached at jesse.remedios@globe.com. Follow him @JCRemedios.