Mary Jane Swaim Daicoff passed away peacefully on August 19, 2019 at Orchid Park Care Home in North Phoenix, Arizona after a five-year journey with strokes. She was born in Plymouth, Indiana on April 6, 1931 as the only child of Kathyrn Willis Swaim, homemaker and seamstress, and Ernest J. Swaim, salesman. She earned a B.A. in Education from Indiana University, an M.A. (and was ABD for her Ph.D.) in English from The University of Chicago, and an M.L.S. in Library Science from Florida State University. She taught school in the Virgin Islands and was married to Dr. George R. Daicoff, Sr. there in 1952. She also taught school in Indiana and college level English at Roosevelt College in Chicago and Indiana University Extension in Gary, before their only child, Susan, was born in 1962 in Chicago. Her contemporaries at U Chicago were Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. When she realized Susan had special needs, she put her academic pursuits aside to devote much time and effort to Susan. She also lived in London and Minnesota, before moving to Gainesville, Florida where she taught Humanities and Art Appreciation at Santa Fe Community College and worked at the University of Florida Libraries for many, many (about 25) years. She was always active in the arts in Gainesville, attending plays and concerts or volunteering as a docent. She was beloved by her friends, the arts community, family, and her students there. She married her long-time companion, the late Kim E. McConnell of Gainesville, and later married Robert “Bob” O’Connell, R.N. with whom she would spend many happy years living first in Tucson, Arizona as they ran a glass and window company and later at her home on Little Lake Santa Fe in Keystone Heights, Florida. She was able to spend her final three years in Phoenix close to her daughter, Susan Swaim Daicoff (57) (lawyer, mediator, court administrator, former law professor), and grandchildren, Arizona Gray Baskin (22) (second-year law student at the University of Arizona) and Graylin Diana Baskin (21) (computer information systems senior in Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University).
She loved and was endlessly fascinated with art, literature, music, ideas, the mystical, nature, gardening, projects, and people. She actually designed and built an enormous addition to her lake house, doing much of the work herself. She built a fence with one handyman’s help at age 75! She was known for her boundless energy and enthusiasm; most of us could not keep up with her! She read the most current news and information and always asked the most intriguing questions. She traveled in England, Europe, and Italy, seeing much of the art and sculpture about which she had lectured for many years. She was an excellent writer, editor, and sketch artist, and created many pieces, including stained glass, two Louise Nevelson-inspired wood sculptures and a ceramic bust of herself. At “the lake,” she built a conservatory, an observatory, a greenhouse, a carport and large workshop, and a chicken coop. At various times, she raised Siamese cats, birds (in an aviary), chickens, and other animals. She was the ultimate “green thumb,” even turning an arid Tucson gravel yard into a paradise of greenery in just three short years. She undertook to co-run a window business after retiring from teaching and librarian work, moving across the country to do so! She embodied the spirit of adventure, “can-do,” intellectual curiosity, and interest in life; many have said over the years that she is the “smartest person they ever knew.” You did not want to play Trivial Pursuit against her! She loved plays, books, music, opera, classical music, paintings, sculpture, art of any kind, fashion, interior décor, architecture, movies, Monty Python, flowers, gardens, birds, coffee, butter, toast, cigarettes, intense and never-ending conversation, and more. She often told the tale of carrying a knife as a child and “tromping” through the fields and woods at a family member’s farm in Indiana, as a “tomboy.” She was the ultimate recycler and sustainability expert, re-using building materials, furniture, and all things in the home and garden for new uses. She delighted in serendipitously finding “just the right thing or treasure” that fit something she already had, and thereby just “completed” the item. She was always interested in the future, was always “ahead of her time,” and thought outside the box. For example, in the late 1960s, she covered the top of her 1962 Barracuda with flowered Contact paper to create a “flower-power” landau-top look and was unmistakable as she drove through Gainesville, Florida.
She influenced people to be the best they could be and to be more, so much more, than they thought they ever could be. She encouraged and supported loved ones and friends to improve themselves and was instrumental in the making of a heart surgeon, a law professor, an author and playwright, a registered nurse, a college provost, and a Harvard graduate school graduate, along with many more. We would not be the persons we are today without her telling us we could (and should) do it, and seeing in us a potential that we could not see in ourselves. She endlessly edited our manuscripts and papers, listened to our ideas and thoughts, helped us think through ideas and concepts better, often said “draw a picture and show me what you mean,” and creatively taught individuals and classes with an enthusiasm and approach that was second-to-none.
Mary Jane, or “Jane” as Bob named her, was unforgettable, one-of-a-kind, indefatigable, tireless, talented, and beautiful inside and out. She is sorely missed, particularly her mind and her conversations, by all who knew her. She would always sit, talk, and listen, and we did not think of leaving. We celebrate, appreciate, and give thanks for her life, her influence, and her legacy.
Memorial services will be 6-8 p.m., Saturday, September 7, 2019 at Luci’s at the Orchard, 7100 North 12th Street Building Two, Phoenix, AZ 85020, preceded by an open house at Susan’s home Friday night September 6, 2019, and followed by an after-church potluck Sunday, September 8, 2019 at 1 p.m. at Step of Faith Church in Ahwatukee. A Florida memorial service will be held later this fall.Print Obituary & Condolences