Charles B. Swartwood III

Brownie passed away this week. He was a great friend, a surrogate father, and as salty a man as there has ever been. My condolences to his family.

(his obituary as published in the Worcester Telegram)

Retired U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge, Charles Brown Swartwood III, known to all as Brownie, died peacefully in Boston, Massachusetts on November 16, 2023.

Brownie devoted his working career to public service and the law. Brownie was employed by the Worcester law firm of Mountain, Dearborn, & Whiting, where he developed and maintained an active trial practice in both State and Federal Courts. In 1993, Brownie was appointed the first full-time U.S. Magistrate Judge assigned to the U.S. District Court in Worcester. He served as the Chief Magistrate Judge from 2005 to his retirement in 2006 from the Federal Court. He then went to work at JAMS in Boston as a mediator, arbitrator, and case evaluator. In 2009, Brownie was appointed by Governor Patrick as Chairman of the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, where he served until his term expired in 2013.

Brownie was born to Charles B. Swartwood, Jr. and Beulah Washburn on March 3, 1938, in Wellsville, New York and lived in Ithaca, New York while his father obtained his undergraduate and law degrees from Cornell University, before the family finally settled in Elmira, New York. Brownie’s paternal Dutch ancestors were early settlers of New Amsterdam. His paternal grandfather was a New York State County Judge and his father was a New York State Supreme Court Judge. Brownie’s maternal English ancestors (Washburn) were early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who eventually settled in Worcester, where they were involved in manufacturing and public service.

Brownie was a member of many clubs in Worcester and Boston and a life-long member of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club. Brownie’s real home and heart were in Cotuit, where he was the third generation of both his mother’s and father’s families to spend summers there and where he was an avid racer of Cotuit Skiffs and Wianno Seniors. Cotuit is where he discarded his bowtie and polished shoes in exchange for a faded orange bathing suit and no shoes at all. Brownie’s idea of a quick sail could easily last 8 hours. After his racing days were over, he spent more than 40 days a summer sailing his Swedish Sloop: “Halve Maen.”

Brownie didn’t suffer fools, but he always had time for a friend in need and the great Judge Swartwood rarely judged. He was a brilliant conversationalist and storyteller; dinners around the table could go on for hours and feel like minutes. After his retirement, he could be found most mornings with his friends at the Coop, most afternoons coercing anyone he could find to sail with him, and most evenings around the great dining table in Cotuit. He earned the name Nono to his grandchildren because he would shake his finger at them, admonishing, “NO! NO!”. While they quickly learned that his bark was worse than his bite, the name stuck.

Brownie attended the Park School in Brookline, the Hotchkiss School, from which he and three others were dismissed for borrowing the school jeep for a midnight ride; graduated in 1957 from Hebron Academy (Maine); in 1961 from Brown University; and in 1964 from the Boston University School of Law.

Brownie is survived by his daughter Hellie, her husband Malcolm Carley, and their three children: Sam and Sam’s wife Nikita, Ali, and Will; his son Alexander and his wife Cindy and their three children: Charlie, Sophie, and Whit; his son Thayer and his wife Heather and their twin sons: Auggie and Ham; his long-time companion, Heidi Baracsi; and his former wife, Judith Swartwood. Brownie’s first wife, Gaysie Curtis, died at age 29 and was the mother of his two oldest children. Additionally, Brownie was the oldest of six children; two of Brownie’s brothers, Peter and Jonathan, predeceased him, and he is survived by his sister, Caroline Blash and her husband Bill, his brother Slater and his wife Kathryn, his sister Penny Brewer, and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to the Association of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club for the enjoyment and future of Cotuit skiff sailing. (Checks payable to ACMYC and mailed to ACMYC, PO Box 1605, Cotuit, MA 02635 or online at Memo: in memory of Brownie Swartwood).