I didn't know Greg Swinford and chances are you didn't, either. But if you ever bought or sold a horse at public auction, or just looked at a Thoroughbred sale catalogue, you probably read his work.
Swinford, a 27-year veteran of The Jockey Club's cataloguing department in Lexington, Ky., was one of those behind the scenes people who are the first to show up for work in the morning and the last to leave at night. His dedication was not so much to the company he worked for but to the customers it served: farms like Claiborne, Lane's End and Pin Oak; consignors like Taylor Made, Dromoland and many others; sales companies from mighty Keeneland to smaller operations like the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association. Swinford did custom work for breeders who compiled bound books of their bloodstock holdings, including the Phipps family.
He is one of many unsung heroes that make the horse industry go. No fanfare and little credit. Just a lot of pride in his work and a personal commitment to do things the right way.
In 27 years, Swinford never once took a sick day. Then, in mid-May, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Three months later, Greg Swinford was dead at the age of 59.
You might think sales catalogue pages are generated with the push of a button, but even with all the technology now available there is a great deal of custom work that goes into what The Jockey Club Information Systems general manager Steve Gillespie calls an “advertising tool” for a consignor.
“The computer generates a rough page, and every page requires human intervention,” Gillespie said. “They are not push button pedigrees by any stretch of the imagination. Because we do so many sales for so many different customers, we had to develop uniformity and adhere to the ever-changing SITA (Society of International Thoroughbred Auctioneers) guidelines. That was Greg's strong suit; he was a tactician at figuring out the rules.”
When Swinford came to The Jockey Club, Gillespie said, the cataloguing department was still using typewriters. It soon transformed into the computer era. “Greg was instrumental in taking that technology from the old days to the new days.”
Once that transition was complete, Swinford “unassumingly sat in his office and wrote pedigrees and did whatever needed to be done,” Gillespie said. “Greg kept the balls in the air and the plates spinning.”
Swinford had gone through radiation treatment after his diagnosis, Gillespie said, losing weight at the outset and experiencing discomfort. “He was starting to gain the weight back and was feeling better,” Gillespie said.
Swinford's last communication to Gillespie came through his wife, Marilyn, who sent a text message on Saturday indicating he planned to be at his desk for the new work week: “We are in the hospital but scheduled to leave Sunday. Greg wanted me to let you know he'd be there Monday.”
Later in the day he took a sudden turn for the worse. Swinford died on Saturday from complications of stomach cancer.
In addition to his wife Marilyn, Greg Swinford is survived by his father, Charles Swinford, three brothers, a sister, and several nieces and nephews.
Funeral services were held near his birthplace in Cynthiana, Ky., on Wednesday. Contributions in Greg Swinford's name may be made to the Lexington Humane Society, Hospice of the Bluegrass, or St. Joseph Foundation.
“We're still in a daze over here,” Gillespie said. “We'll get through it, but we will never be able to replace an individual like Greg.”
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