John Swainson

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Served from 1971 through 1975

Oral History

John B. Swainson was born on July 31, 1925, in Windsor, Ontario. When he was an infant, his family relocated to Port Huron, Michigan, where he grew up.

He was raised in Port Huron and attended public schools there. Swainson became a naturalized citizen at the age of 18. Following high school, he enlisted to serve in World War II. Swainson, with patriotic fervor and personal courage, volunteered for patrol to identify and clear land mines on the battlefields of France, under the command of General George Patton. Only 18 years old, Swainson recovered from the loss of both of his legs. He received France’s Croix de Guerre (the presidential citation), and the Purple Heart before his 19th birthday. He worked for months with therapists and learned to walk upright and unassisted, an accomplishment made possible by his courage and determination.

He attended Olivet College and received his B.A. degree. While at Olivet, Swainson met and married Alice Nielson of Detroit. The couple transferred to the campus of the University of North Carolina, where Swainson received his Bachelor of Law Degree in 1951.

Swainson was elected to the State Senate in 1954. He then went on to serve with distinction as Lieutenant Governor to Governor G. Mennen Williams. In 1960, at the age of 33, he was the second youngest man to be elected Governor of Michigan.

After his gubernatorial service, Swainson became a Circuit Court judge. In November of 1970, he was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court. After serving for five years, Swainson was accused of accepting a bribe. Though he was found not guilty, Swainson resigned from the Court and his license to practice law was suspended for three years. By 1985, his reputation was restored when he was appointed president of the Michigan Historical Commission. (Michigan Supreme Court. Michigan Reports: Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of Michigan. Rochester, N.Y.: Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Co., 1949 – 1998, Vol. 419.)

Portrait presented on: (Click link to read transcript)
November 14, 1984

Portrait Artist:
Stockbridge, Dorothea R.

Oil on canvas

100.33cm X 74.93cm (39 1/2″ X 29 1/2″)

Owned by:
State of Michigan

Current location:
Hall of Justice – 4th Floor: Rotunda

Portrait photo by:
Douglas Elbinger – June 1996