Joe Swan

Who could say enough good things about Joe Swan?
Former SJSU photojournalism professor Joe Swan, 78, died Sunday. Joe taught in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications from 1963 to 1991. I remember having an 8 a.m. class with Joe when I was a student at SJSU about 28 years ago, in 1980. Joe was full of great stories about his days at Grit Magazine. I doubt I was the only one in the class who had no idea what Grit Magazine was or had never heard of Grit Magazine before that class but we all listened enthusiastically because Joe was a first class story teller.

Joe was a Texan. He spoke with a Texas accent. Joe was a perfect southern gentleman. Years later; I remember walking around campus with Joe. There was a female university police officer having some issues with two males who were athletic looking and much bigger than her. Sensing that the police officer might be out matched, (despite the fact she had a gun and they did not) Joe turned to me and said, “it looks like we might have to get involved here.” At that time Joe was having some health problems. Neither of us was a formidable force. Neither of us were fighters. Those guys looked a lot bigger and tougher than us! Thankfully the officer was able to handle the situation handily. That’s Joe, he was not a bystander if anybody, especially a lady was, or even appeared to be in distress.

I have Joe to thank for working at San Jose State University. Before I came to SJSU I was a photo lab tech at the University of California San Francisco. I had my BA in photojournalism. Joe told me about a photo lab tech job that had just opened up at SJSU in the then Department of Journalism and encouraged me to apply. That was 1988. That photo tech job evolved into one supporting computers.

Joe had an ear to the ground for jobs for his former photo students. When I was there as a student, Jack Fields was a visiting professor. Jack taught most of my main photojournalism classes but Joe was the full time professor. Joe taught some of the other photojournalism classes as well as courses like the morning magazine class. After Jack left Joe taught all of the photojournalism courses.

Joe watched over and cared for his students like they were his own kids. Many of us owe our careers to Joe. Sometimes he knew of job openings before the people who were doing the hiring would know they had a vacancy. Joe would hear through the grapevine someone was going to leave a job. Our students and graduates would have their applications in the hands of editors before the outgoing photographer had even given notice.

Besides my current position there are two other jobs I landed that I owe credit to Joe for, including my time as a photographer for the Manteca Bulletin.

Recently the Spartan Daily ran a story on Joe. It had a photo of him in the hospital and it said, “Within the last year, Swan, 78, has had both legs amputated and has been on dialysis, a process of filtration used when the kidneys stop working, because of complications from diabetes.” The photo I have above, in this blog post, is how I will remember Joe.

He was one of the nicest people I have ever known. Joe a real role model for aspiring journalism students as well as for new faculty. We lost one of the best!

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