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Gregory Swan (1958-2022): ‘a gentleman and a gentle man’

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Gregory Swan (File photograph)

An engineer who headed a Bermuda telecommunications firm led turn of the century work to safeguard the island against the computer flaw dubbed the millennium bug.

Gregory Swan, a top Belco engineer who later headed the Government’s telecommunications department, was also president and chief operating officer of TeleBermuda International, known as TBi.

Mr Swan, who died last month, was on the Public Service Commission for six years before he was appointed its chairman in 2014.

Mr Swan started out in business administration at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

But he switched to engineering and “never looked back”.

He earned a Master of Science degree in industrial engineering from Indiana’s Purdue University.

Mr Swan told The Royal Gazette in a 2000 interview that telecommunications had “always been my first love”.

He joined the US telecommunications giant AT&T as a machine designer in 1980.

Other engineering jobs over his eight-year career in America included the then new technology of cellular phone systems.

But Mr Swan returned to the island to join Belco in 1988 and was chief engineer at the power firm in the 1990s.

Gregory Swan in 2010 (File photograph)

Mr Swan helped Belco upgrade its IT systems before the switch from 1999 to 2000, which had sparked fears of a worldwide computer shutdown.

Computer specialists around the world were forced to work to avoid the problem known as “Y2K”, the millennium bug, and the Year 2000 Problem.

Concern increased as the millennium loomed because of the potential for computers to crash because so many programs recorded calendar years using only the last two digits.

Although few computer errors actually occurred when the clocks clicked forward to 2000, entire IT systems had to be updated in case the inability of computers to distinguish between 2000 and 1900 crippled critical systems.

Mr Swan’s work to prepare Belco for the change got him seconded to the Government to ensure its computers transitioned without problems.

He was appointed Director of the Department of Telecommunications in May of 2000.

Derrick Binns, the Head of the Public Service, said: “I first met Greg when he was the Director of Telecommunications, but began to work more closely with him as the Principal of TBi when I was the Permanent Secretary of the ministry responsible for telecommunications.

“This was during a period when the Government was introducing a new regulatory regime for telecommunications that contributed to a period of consolidation within the industry.

“Greg led TBi throughout that period of significant change.”

Dr Binns said he and Mr Swan also worked well together after he became the chairman of the PSC.

He added Mr Swan was “most supportive and encouraging”.

Dr Binns said: “He created an environment that enabled me to have honest and frank discussions with the PSC about a myriad of issues regarding the management of the public service and together we would work towards solutions.

“I will remember him and be thankful for his sensitivity and compassion.”

Mr Swan also spent 19 months on the board of the Regulatory Authority after he was appointed to the agency in 2020.

An RA spokeswoman said Mr Swan “consistently brought his expertise, considerable experience and wisdom to each meeting of the board”.

“Greg was a gentleman and a gentle man.

“His keen insight, ready smile and balanced and thoughtful contributions are already greatly missed.”

Michael Weeks, a Progressive Labour Party MP and friend of Mr Swan’s, said he was “a big brother and mentor to many”.

Mr Weeks said Mr Swan became an “inspiration” after he joined the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity in 2009.

Patrick Singleton, the executive director at the Bermuda Broadcasting Company, said Mr Swan was “an amazing talent” who contributed to high-tech projects throughout North America.

Mr Singleton added: “He always had some creative engineering project that he was working on.”

“Any task, he could find a creative way to solve it.

“He was always kind, with a great sense of empathy and fantastic advice.

“It’s a great shame that we have lost him so young.”

Mr Singleton said he worked with him on marketing and TV commercials after Mr Swan took the helm at TBi in 2006.

Mr Swan worked for the BBC on engineering and IT projects before he joined the RA – but remained a family friend of Mr Singleton.

Mr Swan is survived by his wife, Elsa Barros.

· Gregory Whitfield Swan, a former Director of the Department of Telecommunications who served as president of TBi as well as on the Regulatory Authority, was born on June 23, 1958. He died on January 26, 2022, aged 63.

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Published February 11, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated February 11, 2022 at 12:20 pm)

Gregory Swan (1958-2022): ‘a gentleman and a gentle man’

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