Bermuda family’s lasting friendship with Ali
An introduction by a mutual friend led to a long friendship between Muhammad Ali and one Bermuda family.
Janice Swainson, from Sandys, spoke to The Royal Gazette about the close friendship she enjoyed with the legendary boxer, who died aged 74 on Friday.
“We have known Muhammad Ali for quite some years,” the 73-year-old said. “He was a wonderful, wonderful person. He was kind and gentle, loving, caring.
“He was a beautiful person with a beautiful personality.”
Ms Swainson and Ali were introduced in 1974, when Ali was on one of his visits to the island. After speaking on the phone, Ali insisted she come to see him and Ms Swainson waited until he returned from a function at Government House.
“When he came back, we went out to dinner and then he took me home and the friendship started from there.
“He met all the children and was sending for us every year. And then I started travelling with him. I travelled with Muhammad to many countries.”
Ms Swainson accompanied Ali to Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, for his epic bout against George Foreman. But the bout, scheduled for September 1974, was delayed by a month because Foreman suffered an injury in training. Ms Swainson returned to Bermuda.
“I came back and travelled with him to many more fights,” she said. “I travelled with him to Manila for the Joe Frazier fight.”
Ms Swainson and her children also spent a lot of time with Ali at his training camp in Pennsylvania and got to know his second wife, Belinda Boyd.
“He played games with the children, he took them on pony rides,” Ms Swainson said.
“Boy, he loved to tease. He used to do tricks and would not let us know how he did them. He loved to do tricks.”
“Jerome, my son, he drove his big white car and had lots of fun with Muhammad.”
Ms Swainson also recalled her daughters, Wanda and Charmaine, looking after Ali's daughters, Laila and Hana.
“They had a roll of toilet tissue and ran all through our hotel rooms with it,” she said. “It was so funny at the time.
“My daughter, Wanda, says she remembers when Ali came to the house and brought this huge box — it was our first colour television.”
As one of their many trips, the family accompanied Ali and his third wife, Veronica Porsche-Ali, to the White House.
“We went to the White House with him and Veronica on his bus, which he drove,” said Ms Swainson, who added that she and Ali remained very close friends for many years.