A Life's Story

November 27, 2021

Strong, caring, recovering

Florence Swail, 91, was dedicated to 65 years of marriage, 50 years of sobriety

By: Janine LeGal

With all kinds of theories about how to have a happy, lifelong marriage, few get to experience this world with the same person for more than six decades. Florence Swail did just that, enjoying over 65 years of marriage to her husband, Gordon, that was every bit a love story.

Submitted Florence and Gordon Swail

“We give our parents so much credit for not cashing out. They were better together,” says Scott, the youngest of three sons.

Swail died Feb. 25, at 91. Survived by her beloved husband, Gordon, their children Glen (Rhonda), Bruce (Sue), and Scott (Kim) and eight grandchildren.

One of five children, Swail was born Dec. 28, 1929, in Shoal Lake, to parents who immigrated from Britain.

Her father, who served as a machine gunner in the Second World War for the Fort Garry Horse, worked at the Shoal Lake Creamery; her mother looked after the family household.

Submitted Florence Swail Florence Swail (Photo by Bruce Swail; circa 1976?)

After high school, she moved to Birtle and later to Winnipeg. It was while working at the Royal Bank she met Gordon, and it was together forever for the couple.

The young Swail family first lived in Wildwood Park, then made their home at the corner of Point Road and Oakenwald Avenue.

Further afield, Florence and Gordon made a summer and weekend pilgrimage to their trailer at Caddy Lake, for more than 30 years. Well known for her fishing skills, Swail once won a Manitoba Master Angler award for catching a massive bass.

“She liked doing stuff with Dad. They really enjoyed being outside and spent a lot of time recreationally together, and that’s a great thing for any marriage. She liked her personal time and it didn’t always have to be with us, which is very healthy,” Scott says.

Supplied photos Florence Swail, who died in February at the age of 91, was loved and respected by everyone she met.

“We were privileged to grow up in a great Fort Garry community, with wonderful people around us,” he recalls. “Mom was loved by all. She was funny — not stand-up funny, but she loved a good joke and loved to laugh.

“All our friends loved her and our dad. I’m sure there were people she perhaps didn’t like very much, but she treated everyone remarkably well. That trait didn’t convey to us boys in quite the same way, I’m afraid. She was better than us… always treat people with respect.”

For years, she and Gordon were members of the Wildwood Club, where they both golfed and curled. She loved competition and a long list of sports including baseball, softball and badminton. Whether the Winnipeg Jets or the Blue Bombers were playing, she wore her colours proudly while cheering on her teams.

Submitted Florence and her husband, Gordon Swail, were married for more than 65 years.

Then, there were the parties the boys were known to host. Being one of the first families in the neighbourhood to have a pool made the family particularly popular, middle son Bruce remembers.

Submitted Florence as a young woman.

“Mom and Dad didn’t seem to mind at all. I remember one year, Glen had a big party, he actually paid Mom, Dad and Scott to go to the Beefeater for dinner and not come back too soon.”

Among the innumerable traits the three sons appreciated about their mother stood her 50 years of sobriety.

“Perhaps the proudest thing we can remember about our mother was that she was a recovering alcoholic,” Scott says. “This might sound strange, but her recovery was nothing short of courageous.

Submitted Florence Swail Florence and Gordon Swail, Xmas 197X.

“When someone enters recovery and remains that way for the rest of their life — the most of their life — it takes a special person with a lot of emotional support from others. Her resiliency and restraint, reinforced by our father’s determination and support, speaks volumes about the two of them,” he says.

“Once Mom gained sobriety, she paid it forward by dedicating herself to years of mentoring countless others to find it as well. She was tireless in her devotion to her family and to others. She remains, in many ways, our hero.”

Describing her as tough, strong, and caring, the sons rarely ever saw her cry.

“Her parents were both from the Manchester (England) area, and I guess some of that strong upper lip took root in her,” Scott says. “But she wasn’t cold, just didn’t wear everything on her sleeve.”

Submitted Top Row: Sons Glen, Bruce and Scott; Bottom: Gordon and Florence enjoying dinner at 529 Wellington in 2015.

Ken Ploen, legendary Blue Bombers quarterback, and his wife Janet, cherish memories of their 40-year friendship with Swail.

Submitted Florence loved to fish and once won a Manitoba master angler award for catching a massive bass.

“Florence and Gord were members of our Up the River Gang,” the couple say in an email.

“It was seven couples from the Wildwood Park area in Fort Garry. Each summer, we would take our boats up the Red River to the mouth and camp or go to each other’s cabins. We also celebrated Grey Cup and New Year’s together. Florence was always a gracious hostess and lady. We miss her, but she will always be in our hearts.”

Whether it was summer-themed parties at the lake, ski trips to Aspen, Colo., and Banff, Alta., or cribbage games, Florence was committed to being present and having fun.

Submitted Florence Swail Florence Apres Ski

“We have fabulous memories that truly form the fabric of our lives,” Scott says. “The nights cackling while watching The Tonight Show on the couch, the family gatherings for birthdays… and the waiting hot plate in the stove after our late Fort Garry Lions practices.

“All normal things, but Mom made them better because she cared enough to do so.”

Having shared many a memorable conversation with Swail over the decades, sister-in-law Joy Dawson adds: “She was one of a kind. We miss her so much.”

passages@freepress.mb.ca

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