A Sausalito diver known for feeding the needy and holding vigils protesting the death penalty was remembered in a memorial service at Christ Episcopal Church last week.
William Gaines Swanson, who owned and operated the boat diving company, Got Zinc, and was co-founder of “Katrina’s Dream,” a nonprofit that supports equal rights, died May 3 of a heart attack. He was 49.
Swanson was often seen outside of the West Gate of San Quentin State Prison holding monthly candlelight vigils in opposition to the death penalty in California, his wife Helene Swanson said.
Together, the Swansons owned and operated a boat maintenance business in Sausalito that cleaned boat hulls and offered other marine services.
Swanson was found unresponsive on the dock after his wife called police to report he failed to return home from work. He apparently suffered a heart attack, according to authorities.
Swanson said her husband left an indelible mark on the structure and philosophy of Katrina’s Dream, and she will continue to work for the passage of an equal rights amendment for women to the U.S. Constitution.
“Everywhere I go, I see William and all the things we dreamed of bringing to Sausalito to improve the lives of those who live and pass through the anchorage,” Swanson said.
A large cross section of people who represented different aspects of Swanson’s life attended the service on Thursday, May 30.
Parishioners of Christ Church joined members of the anchor-out community as well as clergy leaders, including a retired bishop, to honor Swanson’s memory.
“I was so please by the people that turned-out at the service,” said Rev. Chip Barker Larrimore, Rector of Christ Church in Sausalito where William was a parishioner for many years. “It was a really interesting and lovely group.”
The Swansons held weekly feeding and prayer services in Dunphy Park in honor of William’s older brother, Olof. The program, Olof’s Brother’s Love Feast, helps feed members of the anchor-out community or anyone in need of food, Larrimore said.
Life-long friend Miles Coolidge remembered Swanson fondly in a eulogy at the service. He said Swanson wanted to put his mark on the world before the world put its mark on him. Coolidge said they referred to each other as “god-brothers” because their fathers were god parents of each other’s child.
“He was warm, extroverted and loving,” Coolidge said at the service. “He demanded more from himself than anybody could reasonably expect.”
According to Coolidge, Swanson was continually pushed by an unresolved contradiction between the extraordinary qualities of his family and his own distinctive personality.
Of the many things Coolidge learned from Swanson as the two grew-up, worked and traveled together throughout college was the importance of hitchhiking as a “virtually metaphysical value,” Coolidge said.
“There is almost no greater leap of faith than hitchhiking in post-Manson America,” Coolidge said. “William showed me it was the gateway to unforgettable, impossible to imagine experiences as much as it was a way to get from point A to point B.”
Coolidge shared stories about their time together, working or traveling together to Colorado in their teens and a trip to Swanson’s family home in Maine. Once at the homestead, Swanson was eager to swim and dive in the frigid waters off the family home — a feat most would pass on.
Coolidge said Swanson pushed himself to physical limits including an encounter with a harsh environment, equal to what was most comfortable and familiar to what gave his life meaning — the family home.
“In the late afternoon he emerged from the water with blue lips, unable to speak. I took him to a restaurant to help him revive with soup and chili,” Coolidge said choking back tears as Swanson’s wife comforted him.
Swanson’s family left an indelible mark on him and was the inspiration for many of Swanson’s endeavors.
“A big part of William’s life since 2005 has been to continue his mother’s ministry through an organization that he and his family established called, “Katrina’s Dream,” Larrimore said.
Swanson’s mother was one of the “Philadelphia Eleven” a group of women priests ordained in 1974. She died in 2005, Larrimore said.
The Swanson family plans to celebrate William’s life at the Olof’s Brothers Love Feast with a service and later this summer will hold a family memorial at St. John’s, Southwest Harbor in Maine, where Swanson’s father still lives.
Contact Soren Hemmila at shemmila@marinscope.