Obituary: Charles Brown Swartwood, III, 85

Retired U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge, Charles Brown Swartwood III, known to all as Brownie, died peacefully in Boston, Massachusetts on November 16, 2023.

Brownie devoted his working career to public service and the law. Brownie was employed by the Worcester law firm of Mountain, Dearborn, & Whiting, where he developed and maintained an active trial practice in both State and Federal Courts. In 1993, Brownie was appointed the first full-time U.S. Magistrate Judge assigned to the U.S. District Court in Worcester. He served as the Chief Magistrate Judge from 2005 to his retirement in 2006 from the Federal Court. He then went to work at JAMS in Boston as a mediator, arbitrator, and case evaluator. In 2009, Brownie was appointed by Governor Patrick as Chairman of the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, where he served until his term expired in 2013.

Brownie was born to Charles B. Swartwood, Jr. and Beulah Washburn on March 3, 1938, in Wellsville, New York and lived in Ithaca, New York while his father obtained his undergraduate and law degrees from Cornell University, before the family finally settled in Elmira, New York. Brownie’s paternal Dutch ancestors were early settlers of New Amsterdam. His paternal grandfather was a New York State County Judge and his father was a New York State Supreme Court Judge. Brownie’s maternal English ancestors (Washburn) were early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who eventually settled in Worcester, where they were involved in manufacturing and public service.

Brownie was a member of many clubs in Worcester and Boston and a life-long member of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club. Brownie’s real home and heart were in Cotuit, where he was the third generation of both his mother’s and father’s families to spend summers there and where he was an avid racer of Cotuit Skiffs and Wianno Seniors. Cotuit is where he discarded his bowtie and polished shoes in exchange for a faded orange bathing suit and no shoes at all. Brownie’s idea of a quick sail could easily last 8 hours. After his racing days were over, he spent more than 40 days a summer sailing his Swedish Sloop: “Halve Maen.”

Brownie didn’t suffer fools, but he always had time for a friend in need and the great Judge Swartwood rarely judged. He was a brilliant conversationalist and storyteller; dinners around the table could go on for hours and feel like minutes. After his retirement, he could be found most mornings with his friends at the Coop, most afternoons coercing anyone he could find to sail with him, and most evenings around the great dining table in Cotuit. He earned the name Nono to his grandchildren because he would shake his finger at them, admonishing, “NO! NO!”. While they quickly learned that his bark was worse than his bite, the name stuck.

Brownie attended the Park School in Brookline, the Hotchkiss School, from which he and three others were dismissed for borrowing the school jeep for a midnight ride; graduated in 1957 from Hebron Academy (Maine); in 1961 from Brown University; and in 1964 from the Boston University School of Law.

Brownie is survived by his daughter Hellie, her husband Malcolm Carley, and their three children: Sam and Sam’s wife Nikita, Ali, and Will; his son Alexander and his wife Cindy and their three children: Charlie, Sophie, and Whit; his son Thayer and his wife Heather and their twin sons: Auggie and Ham; his long-time companion, Heidi Baracsi; and his former wife, Judith Swartwood. Brownie’s first wife, Gaysie Curtis, died at age 29 and was the mother of his two oldest children. Additionally, Brownie was the oldest of six children; two of Brownie’s brothers, Peter and Jonathan, predeceased him, and he is survived by his sister, Caroline Blash and her husband Bill, his brother Slater and his wife Kathryn, his sister Penny Brewer, and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to the Association of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club for the enjoyment and future of Cotuit skiff sailing. (Checks payable to ACMYC and mailed to ACMYC, PO Box 1605, Cotuit, MA 02635 or online at Memo: in memory of Brownie Swartwood).

(Photo and Obituary via Chapman Funerals & Cremations)

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David Parry
9 days ago

Charlie Swartwood was indeed a formidable trial attorney. My family learned that lesson the hard way. We were newcomers to Soutborough in 1982, when we received a public notice about a forthcoming meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). At this meeting, a use variance would be voted on, allowing commercial uses to spread westwards along Main Street, involving demolition of a large historic house. Attorney Swartwood represented the petitioner, Dr Richard Hallisey, who owned the 11 Main Professional Building and the abutting residential lot at 15 Main containing the historic house to be demolished.

Attorney Swartwood had been a Selectman in the early 1970’s, and later Town Moderator. After leaving Town elective office, his prominence provided much demand for his services as a private attorney, representing various town businesses.

Dr Hallisey hired attorney Swartwood in 1972 , when Hallisey built and owned the 11 Main St “Professional Building”, which at that time was the largest commercial building in downtown.

The Professional Building replaced the burned remains of a true Southborough Landmark … the wonderfully evocative “Southborough Arms” . This was a famous and large, traditional and historic, New England Inn … (And while we are on this subject — I want to suggest a new Town official objective … to solicit, promote and assist in the construction of a NEW version of the Southborough Arms, somewhere near our quaint downtown) … The Arms was famous not just as a place to stay, but even more as a fine restaurant and THE BEST “WATERING HOLE” (for drinks), for those stopping on a long journey by horseback from Boston to Worcester (before Rt 9 was built).

Back to the Professional Building and Charlie Swartwood … When the 11 Main building was built in the late 1970’s, it contained Hallisey’s dental practice and the first phase of “Southborough Medical”. But1982, when the variance was applied for, the Medical needs had already outgrown the site. Growth continues today. 40 years later, and the business has changed its name to “Reliant Medical”, whose major facility is located on Newton St, in a building which is vastly larger (over 100,000 sf) than the size of the original 11 Main building (30,000 sf).

In 1972, the major space needs were for more parking and a totally new septic system to replace the existing system which had been broken through over-use, and had to be pumped out frequently. Therefore Hallisey bought the adjacent house at 15 Main St, and hired Swartwood to obtain approval of a Zoning Use Variance, which would allow the historic house on 15 Main to be demolished and the land used for a new, giant parking lot, built over a large, new, underground septic field.

Unsurprisingly, nearly all home owners close to 11 and 15 Main were deeply upset, because they feared commercial sprawl and lowered property values. So they immediaty formed the Southborough “Main Street Association” to raise money and publicity, needed to oppose the variance. Nevertheless, the variance was granted 5 – 0 by the ZBA. The Association appealed to Worcester Superior Court, but lost again. So they next appealed to the State Land Court in Boston. This time they WON. But that took 7 years and a lot of money — to pay Bowditch and Dewey, a very prominent Worcester law firm. The money was raised by organising twice-yearly yard sales, which were very large (street-block long), held at several houses, with each house selling different merchandise ( such as tools, clothing, furniture, kitchenware, toys, et al.). Over $30,000 was raised in this manner … which would be over $60,000 in today’s dollars.

Seven long years later (in 1989), Hallisey’s 11 Main building was still suffering from the broken septic systen under its parking lot. So Swartwood proposed a new application for a repeat attempt at a “use variance”. The Association decided it was time to end the war and negotiate a compromise. They proposed that, instead of demolishing the historic house and building more parking over septic, the new solution lay in dividing the large 1.5 acre lot at # 15 Main, into two lots … (1) A front one-acre lot for the house, and (2) a back half-acre lot for a large, new, underground septic field needed to serve the office building at #11. Notably, the compromise did NOT allow expansion of the commerci parking lot because the residents didn’t want spreading commercial. The objective was to keep the appearance of the 15 Main site unchanged … in order to protect residential property values.

Forty years later (1982 – 2022), thanks to Swartwood’s involvement, this has proven to be a significant success story, for at least four reasons.

(1). The neighborhood just west of “downtown” has successfully retained its primary character as Southborough’s premier collection of historic homes.

(2). The residential area has proven capable of adapting, because St Marks School acquired two of the historic homes (# 17 and 26), and the School has renovated them back to their original beautiful appearance. Additionally, the 15 Main historic house was acquired by a long time Souborough family, who liked living near downtown, and they received a sensitive approval (with architectural conditions) from the ZBA — and with support from most neighbors — to demolish the old dis-functional house and replace it with a home which is NEW, but is built to appear older. being designed in a traditional New England style.

(3). Hallisey got what he needed most — a new septic system . And he found new tenants.

(4). Southborough Medical made the RIGHT decision to move its location — RIGHT not only because it saved the residential neighborhood, but also RIGHT for their own Medical business — because their new locations permitted unconstrained expansion. The new sites were built in stages …. FIRST, they moved to a temporary prefabricated building on Rt 9 in Southborough / Fayville (This building was later sold to its current occupiers — the Chinese Gospel Church). THE SECOND BUILDING was a new 4 storey building on Rt 9 in Framingham. And the THIRD BUILDING was the huge, new, medical complex on Newton Street.

Charlie Swartwood was instrumental in these ventures. Although he won and then lost his first round at the ZBA, he later agreed to the sensible compromises which benefitted not only his client Dr Hallisey, but also the Town he loved. God bless him and his family. It’s another sign of a caring generation passing on.

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