Pamela Swift, Arizona Environmental Watchdog, Leaves Legacy of Sustainability Change

Activist Pamela Swift had no shortness of courage when it came to taking on the environmental challenges of Maricopa County in the 1980s.

Swift, a Peoria resident, died on June 21 at Thunderbird Hospital after months of illness. She was 76-years-old.

During the 1980s, Swift found her place as an environmental rebel, challenging Maricopa County's waste management tactics. She researched and loudly complained about the dangerous levels of chemicals found in the groundwater wells around the 19th Avenue landfill in downtown Phoenix.

"Pamela Swift, I believe, was the first grassroots environmentalist in the state I really do," friend Myra Jones, 68, tells New Times. "She would reach out and get people involved. She went all over the state, organizing -- getting people to clean it up. She was just very dear to my heart."

Swift had a mantra of "keep pushing because when you stop, they stop," as she educated the public about the hazards of careless waste management and how to pressure political officials to take action.

And making protesting a family affair, Swift would often bring her grandchildren to environmental rallies -- against their mother's wishes.

"Against my stern warning to not take my daughter to any you can see she still did [referring to the picture at the top of the post]," Swift's daughter, Jenifer Swift Kondziola tells New Times. "She would tell me they were going shopping or something until I would see them on the 10:00 news."

In 1989 Swift was handcuffed by security after videotaping an infectious-wastes incinerator that was on the grounds of a Maricopa County hospital. After attracting political and media attention, both county officials and the incinerator operator, Brown Ferris Industries, apologized.

"I know she was always very headstrong and a very type A personality," Kondziola says. "I think the activism started as a reaction to what was happening around our home. She'd go in and fight for the neighborhood and let then know how to fight and that they could fight."

Swift was appointed to the state's Pesticide Control Board in 1986 after spearheading a rally to stop agriculture chemical use. A few months later she was honored nationally for her fight against pollution by the Citizen's Clearinghouse on Hazardous Wastes.

"There are not too many citizens who contrubute so much to their community, to the public good, as Pamela Swift did," Butler says in a letter to New Times. "It is important to know of Pamela's years of selfless work and to know of her passing so that we can say thank you."

When she wasn't out fighting environmental injustices, Swift ran a flag repair shop -- Swift Flag Repair Service. Started in 1972, the shop continues to operate under Kondziola's care.

Swift is survived by Kondziola, three grandchildren, and her sister April. A small memorial service was held by the family earlier this month in Peoria.

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Adele Hampton
Contact: Adele Hampton