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Pioneer ‘Van’ Swan dies at age 90

Strong convictions: Vanosdelle “Van” Swan Sr

Vanosdelle “Van” Swan Sr, one of the island’s pioneering welders who took part in the construction of some of Hamilton’s greatest buildings, has died at the age of 90.

With his late brother Arnold, Mr Swan founded the welding company Swan Brothers, later named Swandell.

A trailblazing business that faced racial discrimination early on, the company went on to assemble the steel framework for major builds across the island, from Fairmont Southampton

Hotel and Bank of Bermuda building at Albuoy’s Point.

Mr Swan passed on his trade as a teacher at the Bermuda Technical Institute. He also liked to recall marching with the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, whom he had met in Philadelphia.

“Be somebody, no matter what,” he remembered Dr King telling him.

According to his son, Van Swan Jr, he passed away on Tuesday “peacefully, beautifully at home in his own bed, looking out at his favourite body of water, Mullet Bay”.

“He was soft-spoken, but a man of strong convictions when it came to his children. He believed in discipline, but at the same time he could be soft. We were always able to melt his heart.

“He was accepting of the many different attributes and personalities of his family and his workers, some of whom stayed with him for more than 30 years, whether prince or pauper. Everyone knew him as ‘Swanny’. If you knew him, you had a friend.”

Charles Dunstan, president of the Construction Association of Bermuda, described him as “a lovable guy, salt of the earth — he was one of our very well-known old time tradesmen and entrepreneurs”.

“There was a limited number of welders in the industry who went out and did site welding.”

With his wife Diane, Mr Swan had four children. Along with his namesake, he had a son, Robin, and twin daughters Mayalene and Vanessa.

Their names were commemorated in his prized 48ft cabin cruiser, the Vanessa May, in which Mr Swan often took his family out camping.

“We would use it as a base camp, going out to islands in the Great Sound or off by Cambridge Beaches — camping for him meant still taking a shower and having air conditioning,” his son recalled.

Mr Swan was proud of his work, especially his company’s contribution to the Bacardi International building, opened in 1972 on Pitts Bay Road.

An iconic building, it featured walls of glass with elaborate steel beams. Other builds included the Emporium Building, the Church of God on North Shore, and the Jardine Mathieson building.