It’s rare that one person can earn respect and true admiration in the fields of both education and in local politics without creating at least a few enemies. Yet that is the legacy of Alphonse “Al” Swekla, whose passing at the age of 86 last week is being felt across Gloucester and beyond as he is laid to rest today.
Swekla’s professional resume suggests the scope of his dedication and commitment to Gloucester and especially its young people. In education, he began as a science teacher at the old Central Grammar School, then assumed leadership roles there, at Fuller School and then as O’Maley Middle School’s first principal before becoming Gloucester’s Superintendent of Schools from 1985-88. And after bowing out due to a heart condition, he still went on to serve on Gloucester’s School Committee and City Council, remaining active to the end as president of the Addison Gilbert Hospital Citizens Fund.
Yet Al’s true service to Gloucester isn’t properly noted by simply reciting his positions and job titles. For it wasn’t merely what he did that made him one of Gloucester’s best-known and most respected residents, but how he did it — with fairness and discipline, always caring, yet firm and unwavering in his values.
Bruce Tobey — the former mayor and city solicitor, current city councilor and past School Committee member who met and dealt with Swekla in all of those capacities — may have put it best in noting, “Al left his fingerprints in positive ways on generations of Gloucester folk in a range of ways that never can be fully described. (He) was the guy who was always there trying to do good — and who also never stopped.”
With that, we extend our sincere condolences to the Swekla family, to Al’s legion of former students and to his many, many friends.
His passing is a true loss for the entire “family” of Gloucester, but his legacy as one of this city’s ultimate community servants will truly live forever.