2nd Congressional District: Swallow learned responsibility early

Published: Monday, Oct. 25 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

John Swallow, standing with his family, acknowledges the crowd after speaking during the Utah Republican Convention on May 8.

Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

John Swallow is persistent.

He doesn't like to give up. He doesn't like to lose. He knows what it's like to have responsibility thrown upon him — and have to perform.

He learned much of that after turning 9 years old, when his father was killed "in a stupid accident" in St. George.

"I was the oldest boy" in the six-child family, recalls Swallow, 41. "And so I had to grow up, try to help out" his suddenly widowed mother.

Losing a father relatively early is something Swallow shares with his Democratic opponent, Jim Matheson, whom Swallow is facing for the second time in Utah's 2nd Congressional District race. Matheson's father died when the two-term congressman was 30 years old.

The death of Swallow's father shook the family's core. They moved to live with Swallow's mother's parents in Juneau, Alaska, for three years.

Then they moved to Orem, where his mother met and married a Nevada rancher named Richard Swallow, who adopted the children and John took his stepfather's last name. The family then moved to Spring Valley, Nev. (whose name is a lot prettier than the actual place).

All told, Swallow moved five times before high school graduation. And he knows hard times.

As a teenager in Orem, he picked blueberries in Shinner's orchard. "I earned 6 cents a pound. And my goal was to pick 100 pounds so I could pay the $6 it took to fill up the gas tank of our old white Impala station wagon.

"I became a leader in the family. Kind of breadwinner when I was 12 or 13 years old. But I have no complaints."

Swallow realizes now he was growing quickly into manhood — taking on a job, finishing it, helping support the family.

Laying pipe

His stepdad's Nevada operation was a 600-acre hay farm. It was John's job to move the sprinkler pipes daily — hard, physical labor.

"You had to move the pipe. If you didn't, the hay didn't get watered. It died," Swallow said. "Failure wasn't an option."

At 16 he drove 40 miles into town and back, took care of chores, finished his school work, did what was required. "I really felt mature at 16. I had a lot of freedom. I was responsible with it."

And one day, the sweat running down his arms, stinging the scrapes from freshly cut hay, Swallow said he made a decision: "I was not going to be a rancher. I was going to college, get an education, go to law school, wear a suit," and just maybe run for political office.

And so he went about it in a kind of lay-the-pipe manner.

First a Spanish-speaking LDS mission to Los Angeles, "where I learned to speak Spanish with an L.A. accent."

Then Brigham Young University, undergraduate degree in psychology, then a law degree.

At 23 he met and married Suzanne Ceader; the couple now has five children.

One of Swallow's first big career decisions came after one year of law school. As a young couple, the Swallows met Brad Pelo and his young wife.

Pelo was starting his own "little software company, and I asked John to join me" in the firm. Ultimately, Pelo made millions of dollars when the firm sold out.

"I asked John to leave school and work with me full time, be a partner," says Pelo.

"But I wanted to be a lawyer," said Swallow, who declined, even though he was greatly tempted.

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