Selma lost one of its best citizens and biggest promoters August 4 with the passing of George "Cap" Swift. This photo was taken in May at Sturdivant Hall when he received The Tim Bjelke Preservation Award presented to the "Historic Preservationist of the Year."
The 86-year-old Selma native spent the past 20 years operating a visitor information center out of his house on the busiest intersection in town. The center was open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. year round, and he maintained that schedule with minimal help until this past January when he finally retired to an assisted living facility. Visitors from around the world received a welcome to Selma from this southern gentleman who was there to open the door and tell them a bit about Selma history. The center sold Selma souvenirs including local and regional books in The Book Nook and published Selma Showcase Magazine. The magazine was Cap's way of promoting what he called "the tangibles" of his town well beyond his town and state. In later years, he had 20,000 copies printed each year, and they were provided free to advertisers, the Chamber of Commerce, state tourism department and welcome centers, restaurants and motels, local schools and of course, welcome center visitors, which in 2002 numbered more than 15,000. While more than half the visitors came from Alabama, the rest were from Canada, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, Australia and even some from the Netherlands, Russia, Vietnam, France, Lithuania, Turkey, Mexico, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, Belgium, Zimbabwe, Sweden, just to name a few!
Prior to the visitor center, Swift served in the military during World War II, operated several local businesses such as Swift Drugs, Toy Arcade and Radio Shack, served as a Selma city councilman, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, and received numerous awards including The Book of Golden Deeds and Governor's Tourism award. In his younger days, Swift played bass fiddle as part of various dance bands that toured the South.
Among his greatest civic accomplishments was his leadership in the Committee of 100, a group of 100 men who sought industry in Dallas County during the turbulent 1960s. They were successful in bringing Hammermill Paper Company to the county, now owned by International Paper. He also fought to save the old Hotel Albert, which finally had to be razed due to lack of funding for preservation. He was instrumental in helping raise funds for the city's purchase of Sturdivant Hall, which has since been restored to a quality museum.
Some advice he gave my son, who worked several years at his visitors' center, was "When you have an idea, write it down," and "Always think positive."
Even during his short "retirement," he was thinking of ways to promote his hometown. Among his last visions for Selma were an easily accessible arts center, revitalization of historic Water Avenue with restaurants, galleries, a riverside amphitheatre and specialty shops; coordinated Selma tours with a trolley system, and increased promotion of tourism. He firmly believed there was no better place than Selma to live: four hours from Atlanta, three hours from the beach, an hour from the state capital, and on a river in the middle of sportsmen's paradise.
To read more about Swift, check here and here.