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Arnold "Pic" Swartz

Obituary for Arnold "Pic" Swartz

June 28, 1927 - February 9, 2018
Houston, Texas | Age 90

"He built one of the most expensive personal libraries of anybody in San Antonio … it was very impressive."


Though he was known as a businessman who served on numerous boards, Arnold "Pic" Swartz also loved the arts. Director of cultural affairs for HemisFair '68, Swartz brought a folk-art exhibit by Alexander Girard and sports photography from his hometown of Baltimore to the world's fair. He also arranged for the Bolshoi Ballet to perform in Texas for the first time. "He really loved San Antonio, and when he came here, there was still a lot of cultural building to do," said his daughter, Mimi Swartz. Swartz was also a bibliophile. "He was an avid reader and book collector," said longtime friend David Hendricks, a former business reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. "He built one of the most expensive personal libraries of anybody in San Antonio … it was very impressive."

Active in politics his whole life, Swartz worked for Bill Hobby when he ran for lieutenant governor of Texas in 1972 and "ran John Anderson's office in San Antonio" during the presidential election in 1980, his son Jeff Swartz said. "It was that sense of service."

Swartz died Friday in Houston, where he had moved to be closer to his daughter. He was 90.
Born in Baltimore, Swartz was raised in his family's clothing factory, which provided suits to congressmen and U.S. senators. "They cut … and sewed the cloth," his daughter said. "I remember racks and racks and racks of coats and jackets and pants."

Swartz served in the Navy at the end of World War II and later graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in history.

He met his future wife, the daughter of a clothing store owner in San Antonio, at a Baltimore country club. They married in 1952. Leaving Baltimore partly to avoid going into the family business, Swartz worked for his father-in-law at Frank Bros. men's clothing store on Houston Street after moving to San Antonio in 1955.

After working for HemisFair, Swartz was hired by Robert L.B. Tobin as vice chairman of Tobin Surveys Inc. "He was involved in the Tobin plant … handled most of Robert's cultural involvement," his daughter said, "all his philanthropic pursuits." Swartz became the president and managing trustee of the Tobin Foundation after Tobin Surveys was sold in 1998. He retired in his 70s.

"Dad really loved organizing things and making things happen," Mimi Swartz said. "Anything he could do to make things better he really enjoyed."

He was preceded by his wife, Marie Frank Swartz; and parents, Elizabeth and Edward Swartz. Arnold is survived by his daughter, Mimi Swartz and son-in-law, John Wilburn; sons, Jeff Swartz and daughter-in-law, Alison, and Edward Swartz and daughter-in-law, Nancy Hood; three grandchildren; and a sister.

11:00 A.M.

A week or so ago I was having lunch with a friend who was critiquing the book I have been writing for the last four years, about the same amount of time John and I have been caring for my Dad. She was a good critical reader, and her basic complaint was a logical one—that she wanted to see a transformative story about my main character. "I want to see a hero's journey she said." "What were the hardships that shaped him? What challenges did he face? Who did he love who changed him?" And so on.
I thought this sounded like a great idea—for someone else's book. Because in my book, the hero never really changes. His fight in life is really to stay the same—to hold on to the values and the morality he learned as a child as he moved through the rest of his life, no matter what happened, no matter how brutal, no matter, even, the successes.
After my father passed away on Thursday—honestly probably before-- I realized that this was also his hero's journey. He was the same boy who became the man, the husband, the father and grandfather, the older man who faced the onslaught of the cruelties of aging. He was the same man as as a clothing store salesman, as a Hemisfair executive, as the consiglieri to an eccentric local philanthropist. "Your father loves everybody," my mother, who did not, would say, sometimes in frustration.
But it was true. He loved his wife and children and their spouses and his grandchildren unconditionally. He loved his dogs probably a little more. "Never met a stranger" is the great Texas expression that describes this Baltimore boy—he was as happy having coffee on the West side with Reuben Mungia at his his print shop on Saturday morning as he was meeting with executives of the Metropolitain opera in Manhattan. The only kind of people he didn't love were those who were unkind, pretentions, or bigoted. Or if they didn't love dogs, which he considered the best indicator of human behavior there is.
No that he was a sack cloth and ashes type, as you well know. My Dad loved cars—I have inherited his gene for being able to identify a dodge charger or a Pontiac grand prix or one or another BMW model while passing them on the highway at 80. So too, his passion for the finer things:He loved nice suits and ties. He loved Scotch and later, red wine. But mostly he was a jeans and sweatshirt kind of guy: It is my saddest regret that as he got sicker, his ability to read was lost to him, because he loved everything from scary serial killer mysteries to, yes, anything written about the Holocaust. Anything.
But, I understood my mother's frustration at times. My father was the kind of person who, even with memory loss setting in, would hear about one of his caregivers travails and ask if there was anything we could do for her. When it came to helping people out, he was, always, sentient. As a friend said of his mother, who was very much like my Dad:, try to think of a time when Pic Swartz put himself first. You can't do it. Unless, of course, it conflicted with something his dog needed. My mother used to say that when she died, she wanted to come back as Wesley, their first corgi, who had his own seat on the airplane and had the opportunity to make a lot of new doggie connections on the upper east side of Manhattan.
Still, to be the child of our Dad was to receive a lifelong lesson in grace and patience, in love and forgiveness. There was a day when I was angry at my mother and grousing about some sin of my mother's—we were sitting in the sun at a Houston dog park, and instead of taking my side against Mom—which he never, ever did—he said, "Well, it's a beautiful day." Those of you looking for a way to get a snooty twentysomething daughter to take a long, hard look at herself should take note.
He had wanted to be a diplomat, growing up, but the anti-Semitism of the time kept him from that career. Instead, he made it his life. As my husband pointed out, he was a very nice man who never did anything he didn't want to do. In fact, he had a will of steel, a stubbornness that got him to 90 and helped him to endure all the indignities that came with it. "Anything you say was a line" I know I will hear all the rest of my days. This mean, I don't really want to do that.
Over the last few years, people have told me that I was a saint, or a wonderful daughter, or whatever, for taking Dad in. I would say in reply that there really was no other acceptable alternative. I knew how much he feared ending his days in a hospital or facility, and that taking him in was also the part of him that lived in me. But I did so worry about ripping him from his longtime home in San Antonio. "You father is so adaptable," a friend of his said, giving me comfort, and she was right. Every time we drove up Bayland street,where the oaks form a thick canopy over the street, he would say, "I just love this street." He was at home wherever he was, which I think was the source of his happiness. He had the Buddhists ability to let go of the past and move toward life as it presented itself, not as he wished it could or should be .
If Dad were here today, the most important thing to him would be to thank you all for coming and honoring him in this way. He would especially want to thank his kids and their wives and husbands and grandkids for growing up to be solid citizens. He would thank Patricia Golberg for giving him some very happy years before he fell ill, especially those long drives—with TWO DOGS-- to Chatauqua. He would want to thank Lucy Hendricks for her many years keeping him from giving everything he had away to everyone; he would want to thank Amy Weiss for being the rabbi he always wanted. He would thank Jan Jarboe and Katy Flato for planning this wonderful service and the reception to follow with the speed and efficiency of General Patton. Thanks so very much to Martha Hill, Carine Nuzah, Oleandra Loe, Margaret Ragston, Deborah Tatum, Eva Ascencio and Kyle Fake, six of the greatest women who ever came into my life; they all kept him laughing and so, so happy to the end of his days.
I don't think my father could ever have imagined that he would spend the end of his days with a little boy named Henry whose mother came all the way from Cameroon to wind up in the Houston Heights taking care of Mr. Pic, but it didn't take long for him to fall in love with Henry, and Henry him. The only problem was that Henry was afraid of Trilby, the last corgi in Dad's life. I'm sure if Dad had had more time, he would have shown Henry the way.

Contributions can be sent to the San Antonio Library Foundation,, any ASPCA or the charity of your choice.

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