TBA Law Blog

Posted by: on Mar 25, 2016

Claude Galbreath Swafford was a featured speaker for the TBA Leadership Law program in Chattanooga in 2006, appearing on a panel titled: "Making a Difference: Lawyer Leaders in the Community."

(Information provided by the family of Claude Galbreath Swafford)

Claude Galbreath Swafford, trailblazing mother, grandmother, wife, lawyer and educator, passed away at her home in Jasper today (March 25) at age 90. Born in Greeneville, Tennessee, she took over the failing family business as an 18-year-old teenager when the war was devastating it, the manager was stealing from it and her father, James Whitfield Galbreath, was dying.

While salvaging this business she also started college at Tusculum College, however, she was not content with a small hometown college. At the age of 20, Claude Galbreath caught a ride to Knoxville and enrolled, over her mother, Pearl Smith Galbreath’s, objections, in law school at the University of Tennessee. She was one of only two women in her law school class and was part of a distinguished law school group which included future U.S. Senator Howard Baker, U.S. District Judge Tommy Hull, and a dashing young Naval Aviator, Howard Graham Swafford, the love of her life for almost 70 years.

She often reminded her children and grandchildren that the University of Tennessee was the greatest land grant university the world has ever known. Her law degree from the University of Tennessee opened many doors for her and she then held those doors open for many others. She was among the first 100 women lawyers in Tennessee. Two years after becoming a lawyer, with her husband away and activated in the Korean Conflict and pregnant with their first child, she successfully argued her first case before the Tennessee Supreme Court. In her later years, Claude instructed her children that she expected to be buried with her active law license in her hand. She offered opinions often and openly, never censored and totally unedited. She was the high sheriff for her family, and they needed it.

While she practiced law, her real passion was improving public education. Claude had a fundamental, core belief that every child regardless of circumstance had a right to have an education as good as the education she provided her own children. As a member of the Marion County Board of Education she oversaw construction of several new schools and hand picked the architects to insure integrity.

Of her 20 years as a member of the Marion County School Board, she served as chair for 10 of those years and was president of the Tennessee School Board Association for four years. She was an alternate delegate to two Republican National Conventions and honored as a Tennessee Statesman of the Year in 1999. She was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve on the board of the National Legal Services Corporation. Following two terms she was then appointed by the Secretary of Defense to serve on the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). She traveled as a three star general in this capacity.

Claude was married for almost 70 years to Howard Graham Swafford, Sr. She is survived by a son, Howard Graham Swafford Jr., (Sharon Carson) of Jasper; a daughter, retired Magistrate Claudia Swafford Haltom (Bill Haltom) of Memphis; grandchildren: Howard Graham (Andrea Kennedy) Swafford, III of Nashville; Shelton S. (Patrick) Chambers of Chattanooga; William H. Haltom, III, Nanjing, China, Kenneth G. Haltom, Boston and Margaret Grace Haltom, Charlottesville, Virginia; and four great-grandchildren.

Claude’s funeral will be at 4 pm at the First Baptist Church of Jasper on Monday. In lieu of a visitation, a luncheon reception will be held at the church immediately following the service and the burial will be private. The family requests no flowers but contributions should be made to the Claude Galbreath Swafford and Howard G. Swafford Scholarship Endowment at the University of Tennessee College of Law.