Bill Swarm, R.I.P.

Bill Swarm, C&O Canal Towpath, June 13, 2020

Bill Swarm, one of my favorite hikers, passed away in a drowning accident on Thursday at Virginia Beach. For the last five years, I’ve had the pleasure of hiking with Bill and his wife, Gerri, in Meetup groups where everyone appreciated Bill’s exuberance and his keen insights on so many aspects of life. Bill described himself as an “outdoor-oriented architect” who was often transfixed by old buildings, awnings, facades – and would patiently explain the history or purpose behind certain designs. On a hike early last month, he was thrilled to talk with a lady who was such an architecture buff that she named her dog Frank Lloyd Wright.

Bill was among the most conscientious folks to take to the trail. The last time we hiked together was two weeks ago on the C & O Canal Towpath. Bill was perturbed at how the National Park Service was neglecting the trail; he filed a complaint afterwards and posted photos and a comment noting the “willful destruction of 200 year historic tow path wall. Caused by negligence of erosion behind wall for several months. 18”x15’ holes need crushed stone and canal needs rip rap to prevent erosion.”

Bill was active in the Boy Scouts for many years. He was the type of leader who was a credit to the Scouts and a blessing to the boys he helped. His savvy in the woods was exactly the trait that made the Boy Scouts valuable to generations of young Americans. Bill was an experienced gun owner and helped other people learn how to handle and respect firearms. I enjoyed hearing his thoughts on the changes that Scouting is going through nowadays.

When I resumed leading hikes early last month with government-mandated limits on attendance, I made sure Bill and Gerri heard about the events because they were two of the friendliest, most thoughtful people you could hope to have on a jaunt.

I send my condolences to Gerri and to Bill and Gerri’s twin daughters and son.


, , ,

15 Responses to Bill Swarm, R.I.P.

  1. Tom Blanton July 6, 2020 at 12:48 am #

    It is always disturbing to lose a friend in a sudden accident like that.

    • Jim July 6, 2020 at 7:50 am #

      Thanks, Tom. Especially jolting to lose a friend who was happily boisterous and helped wake me on some mornings where my mental haze was loitering on the landscape.

  2. Abel Cabrera July 6, 2020 at 9:44 am #

    Every person is invaluable and very much Bill. My condolences to the family.

    • Kelly Magalis July 6, 2020 at 10:01 am #

      He will be missed. Very sorry for your loss. My condolences to his family.

  3. Tessy July 6, 2020 at 10:42 am #

    Very sad news. The few times we chatted on hikes, found him to have a very cheery and friendly disposition. Also, so nice to see Gerri and Bill walking hand in hand on the hikes. My deepest condolences to the family.

  4. Jeff Barrett July 6, 2020 at 1:31 pm #


    Sorry for the loss of your friend. I only occasionally hike with the Alexandria Hiking Group so I do not remember him. Of course, for the last few months I have not been hiking at all in DC because it is easier to “shelter in place” in my country home than in DC where it seems that everyone feels obliged to wear a mask outside. I hope to rejoin your group when it is again legal to breath correctly.

    • Jim July 6, 2020 at 1:39 pm #

      Thanks, Jeff. We are hiking again and masks are not mandatory. But John Mercer, the hike leader, strictly prohibits anyone from complaining about other people not wearing masks. Outside in the sunshine, plenty of fresh air and elbow room – a helluva safer venue than the Washington subway.

    • Alex Native July 9, 2020 at 9:29 am #

      No one is being required to wear a mask outside. That’s a voluntary personal decision. It’s only required indoors in private businesses once we learned the virus can be aerosolized, so feel free to return for hiking fun. I appreciate that you cared enough about a stranger to leave a message of condolence, so thank you for the time you took to do that for a man you didn’t know. We need more of that in this world. It is appreciated.

  5. Frank Mcwilliams July 6, 2020 at 2:54 pm #

    I’m sorry to hear about Bill, our sympathies go out to his family.

  6. Lizzy Huang July 6, 2020 at 3:54 pm #

    I was in the same church as Bill, so before getting the email from the Alexandria hiking group, I already learned about this sad news from the church. Surprisingly enough, another group sent out the same message, and then I realized, I not only shared the same church, but also the same interest group with Bill, although I never met him in the hiking events.

    Bill was an important member in my church. I moved to this area for like just about 2 and half years. I still remember when I just joined the church choir, he’s among the first to come to the front to greet me after the service, telling me how much my energy had added to the choir and helped it shine in the service. He introduced himself with the joke that probably everyone who knows him has heard about. “Hi, my name is Bill, the one that you don’t wanna get.” I have sung in church choirs since 2014. I wasn’t given such an attention when I sang in a much larger church back in North Carolina. I didn’t expect that I could get greetings from church members until I joined this church choir, and that I received such a warm welcome from Bill. He attended almost all services, helping out with all sort of stuff.

    Since the pandemic, the church service has moved online, and I never got the chance to see Bill. I learned that he got into an accident and was in the hospital 4 days ago from the church, but nothing more was disclosed. I thought he could have made it. Then yesterday, I was told that he didn’t. And then today, I learned that, his conscientious personality also has great influence outside the church life. The church has lost a life-long supportive member forever, and I have lost the opportunity to get to know Bill more than just from the church service.



    • Mary & Cameron July 18, 2020 at 12:52 pm #

      My dear Gerri and family,

      My heart just sank when I heard the passing of Bill. Living at
      across the street from such a wonderful family I will always cherish. I remember the first day we move in. Bill was running across the road to see if we needed anything.
      He was always such full of life and kids were back and fourth house to house and we all became wonderful friends. Bill took such a great interest in Cameron and helped him through ruff times after losing his father. Which meant a lot to me.
      I feel your pain losing my husband as well. It will take sometime to feel whole again but know Bill will be with you all always. As well as I will be here for you all.
      Sending all our Love and prayers.

      Mary & Cameron ❤️

  7. James July 7, 2020 at 7:59 am #

    My Deepest Condolences to Gerri, the girls and Matt.

    I’m very Sadden about Bill’s passing. We had just talked that day. I can only think, the hand of God compelled me to give him a call that day. I have had this experience before.

    I’ve known Bill for about 37 years. We first worked together as Young Architects at the same firm. Bill was a unique personality.

    We talked over the years. Then we discovered we both had the same passion about Scouting and other stuff. Something we never discussed as co-workers. In the era of facebook we would go very Old School and actually talk on the Phone about what each other posted.

    Bill was a great friend and I’ll miss him.

  8. Maralyn July 7, 2020 at 3:53 pm #

    I have not yet been on any hikes, out of fear of getting lost (not from Virginia) and not being sure what I need to bring; but intend to start at some point. I am very sorry to hear we have lost such a wonderful leader. It sounds like he was a terrific person, and no doubt his soul has moved on to even better.

  9. Carrie C July 7, 2020 at 6:54 pm #

    Bill was so kind to me when I graduated from design school. He mentored me and helped me along with kindness and humor. In the last year we reconnected on FB and he always had great comments. Prayers for the family as I can’t imagine the depth of your shock and loss.

  10. BILL BURCH July 8, 2020 at 7:18 pm #

    Bill was a wonderful person and almost my next door neighbor in Virginia Beach he was the type of person EVERYONE WANTED TO KNOW his kind and thoughtful way lit up a room my heart goes out to his wonderful wife and family you have no idea of the many who will miss his smile and compassion gerri and bill were a match made in heaven and my heart breaks for her and the children.The last time I talked to him he was worried about my wife ginny and me and asked us to be careful .