Long-time county judge dies

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‘Doc’ Swinford served 17 years as Harrison County’s leading public official

By Lee Kendall

Lee Kendall,
News Writer

Longtime Harrison County Judge-Executive Charles “Doc” Swinford, died on Sunday, March 16, at Cedar Ridge Health Campus, after a lengthy illness.
Swinford, 82, defeated incumbent judge Russell Stephens in the general election in 1981 and was to take office in January of 1982. However, Stephens died suddenly in December, 1981, and Swinford was appointed to fill the vacant position by then-Governor John Y. Brown, Jr, one month before he was to officially be sworn in.
Swinford was elected to four terms as Harrison County’s top executive government official.
“I don’t know of anyone who served longer as an elected official,” said another former county judge-executive, Dean Peak of the man he unseated in the 1998 election. “That tells you how popular Doc was. People loved that red baseball cap he wore and he did wear it well.”
Wanda Jones, who served as Swinford’s secretary for his entire 17-year career as county-judge executive, has nothing but fond memories of her former boss.
“Doc was the kind of guy that you didn’t work for, you worked with,” Jones said. “He was a hard-working man who had the best interests of the county always at heart.”
She remembered two events that occurred during his term,that showed his commitment to the county.
“When he first took office, we had this terrible drought in 1983 and he led the push to have a pipeline put in from the Main Licking River to solve problems like that in the future,” she recalled. “The second thing, and this is something people don’t remember, is that he was the judge during the Flood of 1997. What people don’t remember, is that after the flood, while we were trying to feed and house all those displaced persons, his mother died a week after the flood and my grandmother died about the same time. That was a lot for both of us to deal with.”
Former Harrison County magistrate and long-time 78th District representative Tom McKee, served on the fiscal court when Swinford led the county.
“Doc Swinford was my very good friend and was a man who was an outstanding steward of the money entrusted to the court by the taxpayers of Harrison County,” McKee said. “He was a frugal leader of the county, but very open-minded and listened to whoever had suggestions.”
McKee said he remembers Swinford loading the members of the fiscal court into a van and leading a tour of the backroads of Harrison County.
“He wanted all of us to see the roads and bridges in all the county, not just the ones in our magistral district,” McKee said. “He always kept a legal pad close by and would write down every phone call he received and who it was from and what their concerns were.”
Current Harrison County Judge-Executive Alex Barnett said his first dealings with Swinford occurred when Barnett was in high school.
“I was elected county judge-executive in the Lion’s Club Youth Day election and spent the day with Doc,” Barnett recalled. “Later, when I decided to run for the office, for real, Doc was an advisor to me.”
Barnett laughed as he recalled those meetings prior to, and after he won election to office for that first time in 2006.
“Doc would say, ‘now Alex, I’m not going to give you any advice, we’ll just talk,’” Barnett said. “Two hours later, we were still talking about those parts of the county’s business he felt were the most important.”
Swinford was the second child born to Dr. C.L. Swinford and his wife, Ruth Walker Swinford. His older sister, Ruth Walker Smith, passed away last year.
He is survived by his younger brother, James Swinford, 81, of Cynthiana. He is also survived by children Heather Swinford Morris, a stepson Kevin Sullivan and two sons, Steve Swinford and Allen Moody Swinford. He was pre-deceased by one son, Greg Swinford.
James Swinford said on Monday that his older brother’s widow, Donna Swinford, had undergone surgery on Monday in Lexington for a stomach issue. He said funeral arrangements for Charles “Doc” Swinford would be made after more is known about her recovery.