A notable former Lubbock ISD science teacher has died.

Charles H. Swift died on Friday, March 7th, 2014 after a battle with cancer. He was 73 years old.

Swift taught pre-advanced placement biology and science at J.T. Hutchinson Junior High for more than 20 years and 35 years overall as a teacher, retiring in 2002.

Most, if not all of the students that spent their time at Hutchinson while Swift taught will remember the man with the long, grey hair and beard. After all, Swift’s introduction to incoming students generally coincided with a yellow Burmese python popping out of his shirt.

Swift’s room, located in a somewhat secluded hallway at Hutchinson, was quite the rare jungle for science students, as it was filled with sizable taxidermied animals and smaller, yet louder live animals.

There was Banana, the yellow python; Elmo, the green parrot; Winston, the African spur-thighed tortoise; a rather moody feather-picking cockatoo, and assorted other animals and insects which Swift used to teach his students in a more interactive manner than any book could deliver.

Swift was my biology teacher at Hutch in 2000, and one of the most memorable experiences of my time at the school was serving as one of his “labbies.” We cared for the animals in his room, and learned to stay away from the fridge in the corner, where Swift kept a number of formerly-living animals which he would use for one educational use or another.

I can also credit Swift for introducing me to the wonderfully witty and sometimes risqué music of Tom Lehrer. Swift offered a hefty amount of extra credit for memorizing and performing the Lehrer song “The Elements,” set to the tune of the Major General’s Song from “The Pirates of Penzance.” I claimed my extra credit points, and even now, I still remember all the words to the song, thanks to him. I wasn’t a particularly stellar chemistry student later on, but it didn’t hurt either.

I also remember being the only “labbie” on duty one day, when Swift asked for my help in carrying a tray with a trash bag containing a hefty, oval-shaped item to his red Ford van. One of the female tortoises had died over the weekend, and he was going to go bury her until she had become skeletonized.

I asked him why he was going to dig her up afterward, and he said that she would continue to be a useful teaching tool forever, but the transition wouldn’t be pretty. He was always focused on education in some form or fashion.

The last time I saw Swift was at a restaurant in December of 2013, and we stopped to chat for a bit. Ever since his wife, Peggy, died in 2011, he did not seem quite like the same luminary that once commanded the front of the classroom. I did not know that he was stricken with the cancer that would ultimately take his life, and I do not know that he knew at that time, either.

Josh Murphy, Facebook
Josh Murphy, Facebook

Each year, he would give out his business cards, which included drawings of various animals, and told his students to call him at any time if they ever needed anything. I still have that card, and he brightened up a bit when I brought it up.

After we chatted for a few minutes and we updated each other on our lives since the last time we had met, he grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, and said “I’m proud of you. I really am.”

I’m not the kind of person to get mushy particularly easily, but that stuck with me. What I find even more impressive is that I wasn’t special in that regard, as Swift had that kind of interest in the vast majority of his former students.

I’ve been lucky enough to have many wonderful and memorable teachers over the years, and I’m thrilled that I had the opportunity to count Mr. Swift as one of them.

According to posts on Swift’s alumni Facebook page, Swift had plans to donate his body to science, so that he could continue to help others learn, even after his death.

He is survived by two sons.

A friend of the family posted on the Facebook page that Swift’s memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 15th at First Baptist Church of Lubbock, located at 2201 Broadway.

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