Gerald R. Swafford

  • "The obituary hints at his joy of teaching surgery to the..."
    - Steve Workman, MD
  • "One of my favorite and most memorable teachers of surgery. ..."
    - Donald Matthews
  • "As a Kaiser RN, I was privileged to work with Dr. Swafford..."
    - Carol Verdolivo
  • "We were privileged to get to know Gerald and really..."
    - Ginger Edwards

Gerald R. Swafford died on October 3 at age 89. He was intelligent, hardworking, generous, and forthright, with a hearty and memorable laugh that all who knew him will remember. Gerry was born on July 21, 1930, in Bismarck, ND, the only child of Gerald Swafford and Winifred (Flinn) Swafford. When he was only 4 years old, his father died, and he knew from that point on the he wanted to be a doctor. His mother found work in Bismarck and Gerry went to live with her parents in the nearby town of Wilton. Although his mother made frequent visits to spend time with him, he stayed with his grandparents until his graduation as valedictorian of the 16-student senior class at Wilton High School. Then he was off to Jamestown College, where he completed in three years the requirements necessary for transfer to the two-year medical school at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. He completed his final two years at Vanderbilt University. He was part of a class chosen for its variety as an experiment, he said, although one of the professors was heard to say that "Next year we go back to brains." Nonetheless, he and his classmates did well, and Gerry was accepted for his internship at the University of California Moffitt Hospital in San Francisco. The following summer, he married Mary Sandra Puckering in Fargo, ND. However, the jobs he had arranged for their summer in Yosemite had to be abandoned when he was drafted. When offered the option by an Army recruiter, he chose to become a paratrooper. After six weeks in San Antonio for basic training, he and Sandra were sent to Fort Bragg, NC, where Gerry became a Captain in the 82nd Airborne Med Co. Over the next two years, he accomplished 13 jumps for pay and three for the fun of it, one from a helicopter. After his honorable discharge, Gerry began his four-year surgical residency at Fort Miley Hospital in San Francisco. A clinic in Jamestown, ND, offered financial support if he would agree to be their general/vascular surgeon when his residency was completed. Both Gerry and Sandra had family still living in Fargo, so it was not a difficult choice; and at the end of the residency program, they went to Jamestown. They missed California, however, and after six years moved back so Gerry could share a practice in Yuba City with a friend from his residency days. Realizing that he enjoyed surgery but not the business aspects of the practice, he decided to join Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento, where he practiced for 25 years. He liked his fellow doctors and his work there; he especially enjoyed helping train surgical residents from UC Davis Medical School. Following his retirement, Gerry kept busy reading, traveling worldwide to spot birds, gardening, and hiking with friends. He joined other Kaiser surgeons in providing free hernia operations to help disadvantaged people get back to work, recorded several books for the California State Library Braille and Talking Book program, volunteered as an AARP Tax Aide during tax season, volunteered at Peace Action, and worked for the Kaiser Spirit Program with 5th grade students. Gerald is survived by his wife, Sandra; daughter, Felicity Brown; son, Gerald Goodwin Swafford (Kara Steffenson); grandchildren, Lillian Unterreiner (Justin), Sadira Brown, Esteban Camacho-Steffensen, and Collen Swafford-Steffensen; and great-granddaughter, Carina Unterreiner. Thank you to all who cared for him. Tributes honoring him can be sent to or the Land Institute, one of his favorites, for their work on perennial food crops. (
Published in The Sacramento Bee from Oct. 12 to Oct. 13, 2019
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