Lee Swann met Poverty as a small boy in Sipsey, Alabama. One of the youngest of sixteen children, Lee grew up during the dark days of the Great Depression, most of the family meals supplemented by farm chickens. Growing up, Lee consumed so much cornbread and chicken that as an adult he could no longer bear the taste of either.
The Swann family moved to west Jasper while Lee was still young. He attended Walker County High School, Walker College, and Auburn University, where entered on a football scholarship and majored in business.
After serving as an Army corporal in Virginia during the Korean Conflict, Lee managed Woolworth stores in Miami Beach; Peachtree Street, Georgia; and Nashville, where he ruptured a disc in his back—a condition that required surgery. When he returned home to Walker County for physical therapy, he decided to stay.
Beginning a career that spanned three decades, Lee became manager of Security Mutual Finance in 1965. Then a friend introduced him to a young lady named Judy McDanal, who was a recent Alabama graduate. “I had seen this man at Security Mutual beside the Frosty. He would walk across to Sport Lollar’s filling station and I thought, ‘That sure is a good looking man,’” Judy laughs. They were married Oct 23, 1965.
The bleak years of the Depression made an indelible impact on Lee, giving him a compassion for others. He became known for his heart of gold, loaning money to people in dire circumstances. “This man would help anybody,” Judy says. “The way he grew up made him more giving, because he didn’t have anything. It made him appreciate his blessings.”
But he wanted to do more. “My dad was in politics and they had a lot of conversations,” Judy says. “Lee thought, ‘Maybe through that I could do something to help.'”
In 1988, Lee ran for and was elected District 4 City Councilman for Jasper. He began cleaning up ditches and overgrown lots in his district. Four years later he was re-elected.
Then in 2004, Lee was diagnosed with colon cancer. He underwent surgery and over six grueling months of chemotherapy. “I didn’t think he would ever run again,” Judy says.
Lee ran again, and won.
The following year, he led Relay for Life by lighting the Torch of Hope. On June 18, 2008, then-Mayor Sonny Posey presented him the Distinguished Service Award by the Alabama League of Municipalities.
But his health was failing and one morning in 2012, Lee made an announcement. “He said, ‘Judy, I had a conversation with the Lord last night, and I’m not going to run again,’ Judy recalls. “‘I don’t think I can make it four more.’ I was so proud of what he had done.”
Lee passed away in 2014 at the age of 81. He served six terms as District 4 Councilman. His projects include the Memorial Park Natatorium, the Jasper Senior Activity Center, and George Lindsey Dream Field. He labored tirelessly for months to secure grants for the young people’s gym that now bears his name.
Today people still talk about Lee’s generosity. “One lady said, ‘I was thrown out of my house at sixteen, had a part time job, I wanted to go to school, but didn’t have any money,'” Judy says, her voice breaking with emotion. “‘Your husband gave me the money. Look at me today. I made it! If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have!'”
Lee Swann had stared into the ugly, gaping maw of the Great Depression. Instead of letting it get the best of him, he turned that crucible into a cross. He would not turn anyone away who needed help. Through his generosity, Lee Swann gave them more than money.
He gave them an opportunity for a second chance. 78