One of the worst things about getting older is that you’re old enough to have a friend or two pass away. In the past few years, I’ve lost some good friends: Winston Henderickson, Jim DiVitale, Mike McCaskey, and this week my buddy John Swarce passed away, and I’m heartbroken once again. Like Winston, Jim and Mike, he went far too soon (at just 60), and his passing was just as sudden and unexpected. So when Kalebra told me John passed away, it was like a slug in the stomach. It hit hard. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it.
John and his sweet wife Gina were coming down to Florida next week (from their home in Boston) for a visit to the Orlando attractions, and he wanted to come over to Tampa to catch Wednesday’s episode of The Grid live in the studio. Afterward, John asked to go to Zaxby’s to try their top-ranked chicken sandwich (since they don’t have one up where they live). The day before he passed, I had emailed him about whether he was comfortable eating indoors with masks, or should we do takeout and bring it back to the office after the show? And then, the next morning, he was gone. I’m still in shock.
When I’m up in Boston, the night before my seminar, I would invite John and a small group of my friends up there to dinner at a casual North End Italian restaurant, and it’s become “a thing” — one I look forward to so much every year. It’s more like a family reunion with some pasta, and the last time I was in Boston was the year before the Pandemic hit. John used to love to tease me about the Patriots and their many SuperBowls (me being a lowly Bucs fan with just one SuperBowl win in our team history). We always went back and forth about teasing each other. At the last time I was up there, he sat right in the front row of my seminar wearing a Patriot’s Tom Brady jersey (and he got the rest of my friends to do the same — all of them, in the front row, each wearing a Patriot’s Jersey. It was brutal and totally hilarious!).
So, you can imagine how I turned the tables on him this past year when not only did Brady leave the Patriots for The Bucs (of all places), and then Pat’s hero Gronk joined the Bucs as well (double-whammy), and then Brady went on to win us a SuperBowl. An incredibly unforseen chain of events for sure.
You’d think I would have been gracious and classy about it. Not a chance! LOL!!! I teased John unmercifully and often via email, texts, and DMs. When they came for their visit, I had even planned to take a long way around on our way to Zaxby’s to secretly drive him past the Buc’s Stadium to see giant posters of Brady in a Bucs uniform. It would have been so funny, and he would have totally rolled with it, laughing all the while.
While I was neither gracious nor humble about any of this, John was both. When he learned of Brady joining the Bucs, he told me he was a Tom Brady fan for life and was actually happy for The Bucs and that he would now be a Bucs fan too — pulling for us (and Brady) to win it all (note the hashtag on the end of his Facebook comment above). Well, that really sucked the fun out of teasing him, but it gives you a little glimpse into what a cool guy John was. So creative, smart, talented, funny as heck, and he was one of those guys that everybody loved. Everybody. He was always in a great mood, so witty, and he really enjoyed life, friends, family, and football (maybe a little less last year, but still).
John was a great supporter of everything we did at KelbyOne. I can’t count how many members we must have got through John spreading the word about us to anyone who would listen. I can’t imagine a Photoshop World conference without seeing John. He was part of the fabric of the conference, and when we get together again for an in-person conference, he is one of the things I will miss the most.
John’s passing is another reminder of how each day is a gift and how precious life is. They say it’s why we need to make the most of each day, and I can tell you John did. Not only did he make the most of his days, if you ran into him on any given day, he made your day, too. I’ll miss John so much, and for my small group of great friends up in Boston — we are all the better for having known him.
I hope you have someone in your life like John, and if you’re lucky enough, now would be a great time to hug them and tell them so.
Rest in peace, John We love you, and will never forget you.