In the end, it was the heart of Alphonse “Al” Swekla that ended his life.
But he is remembered by thousands in the city for his big heart and endless service, both as a lifelong educator and an elected official.
The educator who worked 39 years for Gloucester public schools, and gave another decade of civic involvement to the City of Gloucester, died Wednesday night at the age of 86.
Swekla, a native of Nashua, N.H., was as much a Gloucester native son as those who were born here, according to his colleagues.
“He was a born educator,” said Natalie Daley, a retired teacher of 43 years. “He was a hard worker and he had a heart. He had his standards and he never broke from his standards but those were standards that the kids could follow.”
Reflecting on his life in his final weeks, he confided to his wife, Lee Swekla, that he hoped he made a difference in the lives of others.
“He said ‘I think I kept a lot of kids out of jail —and I think I did OK by a lot of people,’“ Lee Swekla recounted Thursday.
Karen Cunha, who has worked in the school administration office for decades, confirmed the late educator’s hopes.
“Over the years, there has been a steady stream of people who stopped by the office wanting to thank him for changing the course of their lives,” she said. “He was well liked and respected. He dedicated his life to the City of Gloucester.”
Lee Swekla said she already got a call from someone who shared with her how Swekla — known by everyone as “Al” — had changed his life.
“He was such a mentor to so many people. He’s going to be really missed by a gazillion people. He showed by example and he was the comeback kid. People would count him out and he’d prove them wrong. He had an amazing will and he was holding onto life in both his hands,” she said.