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Jack Swift, 77, political and civic activist in North Adams

A political sage for Berkshire County Republican candidates, Jack Swift could glance at the early returns on election night and immediately sense the likely winner. Of course, when that moment arrived, he had already done substantial research.

“He was very analytical. What he did was study past election returns, and in hindsight, he taught me the value of doing that,” said Peter C. Webber, a former state senator on whose campaigns Mr. Swift worked.

“He would look at the votes from presidential elections and gubernatorial elections from decades past,” said Webber, who is now senior vice president at Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce. “Then he would take that and apply it to local election patterns and say, ‘You can probably get this election return in that community.’ ”

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Although Mr. Swift also worked on the campaigns of Webber’s state Senate successor, his daughter Jane Swift, helping to engineer election victories was only one of the civic roles he played in North Adams, where he lived nearly his entire life.

A former president of his family’s plumbing company, Mr. Swift died in Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield on Wednesday of complications from cancer. He was 77.

North Adams is “a city that has a tremendous sense of fair play and doesn’t like bullies, doesn’t like phonies,” Mr. Swift told the Globe in early 2001, when Jane Swift was on the cusp of becoming the Commonwealth’s acting governor.

To help foster civic good, Mr. Swift had been a longtime member of the North Adams Republican City Committee and, as an early-1970s appointee of then-Governor Francis W. Sargent, he formerly led the North Adams Housing Authority.

Mr. Swift’s lasting political legacy, however, lies in the political campaigns he helped guide, beginning with those of his longtime friend Jack Fitzpatrick — the late arts patron who had served four Senate terms, and with his wife had owned the Red Lion Inn.

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“My dad understood how to put together a vote model that would win,” said Jane Swift, who now lives in Williamstown. “And so every election night, whether it was Senator Fitzpatrick, or Peter Webber, or me, he would see the first numbers come in from the first precinct and would pretty much know if you were going to win or lose, or if it was going to be close.”

Webber, who also formerly served as commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Management, said Mr. Swift’s “predictions were always spot-on.”

Mr. Swift’s son John Jr. recalled that “there were no spreadsheets then — he was just writing these things down. He didn’t go to the Kennedy School. He was a plumber, but he had a knack with numbers.”

The oldest of six siblings, John Maynard Swift Sr. was born in North Adams in 1941, a son of Ashley Swift and Vivian Scrivens.

A first baseman, he was on a team that came within one victory of heading to the Little League World Series in 1953.

Having entered first grade at 5, Mr. Swift was 16 when he graduated from St. Joseph’s High School in North Adams. He waited a year before college and took a full-time job at his family’s plumbing business, Ashley Swift & Sons, where he had begun working when he was young.

Mr. Swift then spent two years in Boston, where he graduated from what is now Wentworth Institute of Technology with an associate’s degree in engineering before moving to Greenfield for several months to work as an architectural draftsman.

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“He was thinking of going off and becoming an architect,” Jane said, “and he met my mom and they fell in love.”

Jack Swift and Jean Kent had volunteered to be in the Roberts Co. fashion show that was part of the community’s fall foliage festival — Mr. Swift would later refer to it as his “modeling gig.”

Jean was then a student at the teachers college in North Adams that is now the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. They married in 1963.

As Mr. Swift settled back in North Adams, and into his family’s business, Jean taught kindergarten until the first of their children was born. She later was a substitute teacher, and when her children were older she returned full time to teach middle school pupils and classes in the Old Testament.

Mr. Swift, meanwhile, rose to become president of Ashley Swift & Sons, whose workers included many employees from his extended family. Though he obtained a master plumber’s license, his hours were soon filled with managing the business.

“He was very meticulous about how he did his work,” said his son John, who worked for him for a while and now lives in Arlington. “He planned everything out in a certain way. Part of that was his personality.”

John added that “everyone who worked with him liked him. He got along with everybody and never really treated people like underlings.”

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Mr. Swift started out in politics as a Barry Goldwater Republican, joining activists who supported the US senator from Arizona’s 1964 presidential campaign.

That involvement continued through the campaigns of Jane Swift, who at 25 was the youngest woman ever elected to the state Senate. She subsequently was the first woman to serve as governor of Massachusetts, and the first governor in the nation to give birth while in office.

As a political activist and adviser, Mr. Swift “was always super respectful. You would never see him talk about someone who disagreed with his politics the way people do now,” John said.

“He thought of politics truly as community service, and as people having discussions and debates about what’s good for their community,” John added. “And that’s why he got involved with it.”

A Little League coach for nearly two decades, Mr. Swift was an avid fan of Boston’s teams, and later on took up golf with the devotion he had previously brought to baseball. He also formerly led the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

“He had a pretty clear view of what was important,” Jane said. “First was family, second was faith — he was a practicing Catholic — and third was community.”

In addition to his wife, Jean, his son John Jr. and his daughter Jane, Mr. Swift leaves another daughter, Johanna of Belmont; another son, Robert of Bedford; three sisters, Anne Benedetti of Natick, Mary Belanger of Stamford, Vt., and Patricia Vareschi of North Adams; two brothers, Peter of Naples, Fla., and Thomas of Lee; and eight grandchildren.

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A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Monday in Sts. Patrick and Raphael Church in Williamstown.

In 1993, Mr. Swift launched Swift Consulting Associates, and over the years, he and his wife, Jean, traveled extensively for his work and for vacations. North Adams, however, was always home.

“My parents live in the same house in North Adams that they bought when my brother was a baby and my mother was pregnant with me,” Jane said.

When Mr. Swift needed to go to the hospital a couple of days before he died, Jane and her husband assisted him as he left, and “he said to my mother, ‘I’m going to miss my house.’ ”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BryanMarquard.