Donald Eugene “Donnie” Swift died suddenly Saturday afternoon, May 10, 2014, at his home at Camp Tiger in Lake Wales, Fla. He was 63 years old.
Donnie had been a groundsman at Westgate River Ranch for the better part of eight years, where he worked hard, was well-liked and respected. Previously, he had been co-manager of the 7-acre Okahumpka Orange Grove east of Lake Wales from 1996-1998 and then again from 2003-2004 with his friend Jerry Rudd. In between, he was a groundsman at Lakeshore HOA. Donnie had arrived in Lake Wales from North Carolina in the summer of 1996.
Donald Swift, born on Sept. 4, 1950, was raised in Kannapolis, N.C., a company town where Cannon Mills provided jobs, homes and health care to his parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Their people had come from the mountains where moonshiners’ souped-up cars drove in the wild zigs and zags that eventually fine-tuned into NASCAR. His father, Raymond “Leon” Swift, a man with little education and huge success as a manager and as a friend, died in 1992. His mother Mary “Beauford” Harrington worked third shift and sang both hymns in church choirs and “Mr. Sandman” harmonies with her sisters Ora Lee, Wren and Helen. Mama Beauford, now 90, still lives in the family home being looked after by her other son, David, 53, a guitarist, and former truck driver.
Donnie graduated from AL Brown High School in Kannapolis in 1968: his classmate Dale Earnhardt was two years ahead of him. Donnie began working in the mills, married his high school sweetheart, Kathy, and their son Scott was born in 1970. He soon joined Duke Energy, building right-of-way structures in the southern region. Athletic all his life, Donnie played for two years for the AA Nashville Sounds. Donnie opened Swift Masonry and worked as a brick and stone mason for the next decade. His son, Matt, was born in 1982. Along the way, Donnie coached for the Dixie Youth League, serving as its president for several years. Swift Masonry sponsored the team Matt played on. He bred and trained prize-winning beagles, Nickel, Kim and Kate; he was a certified AKC judge. He also was a rodeo bull rider and a calf roper; Kathy was a barrel racer; they raised horses. His first marriage ended in 1991. Donnie’s five-year second marriage ended in 1999.
But the running thread throughout his life was music. He was a singer, a drummer, a song writer, mostly Carolina Beach music. He and his cousin — more like a brother — Darryl Harringon, started bands, played together and apart — starting the Psychotic Reactions and playing with the Aqua Lads, the Soul Review, and The Entertainers, among others. Donnie sang and drummed up and down the Carolina coast for 18 years.
Donnie loved his friends and knew how to make everyone feel special. He loved the movies, “For Love of the Game” and “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.” He loved kids and campfires and oysters on his birthday; he never met a stranger; he played the lottery. He was a Southern fried cook, a fisherman, a budding taxidermist. Donnie was raised a Southern Baptist but knew his church was under the twisted oaks at Camp Tiger, on the water, under the night sky, where — whenever he would look up — there somehow would almost always be a double rainbow or shooting star.
Besides his mother and brother, Donnie leaves behind his son Scott, a NASCAR tire specialist for Carl Edwards, in Concord, N.C.; his son Matt, a writer, artist, retailer, headhunter, soon to be in Charlotte, N.C. Donnie was deeply proud of both his sons. He leaves behind his aunts, his cousins Darryl, Ann, Dorinda; his niece Heather and nephew Caleb, all in N.C.; and his companion of 15 years, Pam Gare of Lake Wales, who will always love him; as well as countless friends and acquaintances whose lives he touched.
There was a memorial service at River Ranch on Thursday, May 15; he was cremated on Tuesday, May 20 at the Nelson Funeral Home in Avon Park with loved ones in attendance; there was a memorial service at Camp Tiger on Tuesday, June 3 at 6 p.m. A memorial service in Kannapolis is planned. Please visit the Marion Nelson Funeral home website at www.marionnelson funeralhome.com to post condolences.