In the Memory of Tim Swift and Jan Merritt

By Jeffrey Bellant December 21, 2021 1123

The industry lost a couple of special people recently.

Tim Swift, a past president of the National Independent Automobile Dealer Association, died last month at the age of 61.

Jan Merritt, a National Auto Auction Association Hall of Famer and former executive director of the Nebraska IADA died in October. She was 82.

I’ll start with Merritt, because I only had interactions with her during her time at the Nebraska IADA.

I only knew Merritt from her time at Nebraska IADA, I didn’t realize her deep history at NAAA and her connection to Bernie Hart.

When I met her at a convention more than a decade and a half ago, she was a quiet, unassuming lady. To be frank, she seemed like an aunt I’d see at a family reunion, kind of sitting in the background.

Then I spoke to her – and I realized how wrong first impressions can be.

Merritt looked straight at me, listened to every word I said and answered every question I asked.

And she taught me something every time we spoke.

Reporters often ask stupid questions and a lot of times it’s just because we don’t understand a subject and want to learn. (Sometimes, they’re just stupid questions).

Anyway, folks are afraid to ask dumb questions, but not me. I’d rather admit my ignorance upfront so I can learn,

Merritt never made me feel stupid and when a smart person doesn’t try to make you feel stupid, it’s a refreshing thing.

Jan Merritt was the humblest Hall of Famer you’d ever meet.

Unlike Merritt, I knew Tim Swift well. He and I regularly spoke, texted and emailed each other for years.

I hadn’t heard from him in a bit when I learned that he died, Like everyone, I wished I had been able to talk to him again.

Swift received a two-year automotive degree from Northwood Institute. He started his career in a dealership but later went into the auction business for many years. He was back at a family dealership in the years preceding his death.

Swift was the ultimate people-person, and he was what business books might describe as a “connector.”

He would introduce people into the industry, connect them with friends and colleagues and help everyone know everyone.

Swift also had the kind of the laugh you heard across the room.

That laugh saved me the first time I attended the Conference of Automotive Remarketing. I had started out in my job focusing on independent and buy-here, pay-here dealers. So, the first time I hit a remarketing conference, I knew no one. 

I’m not afraid of meeting people and talking to them – ask my wife – but I was in the wilderness that day.

Then I heard Swift’s laugh. I had met Tim through NIADA, so to learn that someone familiar was at the conference was a relief.

It was like spotting a beacon in a storm.

I found him and he went to work.

 He introduced me to everyone, vouched for me and helped create business relationships that helped me do my job.

Over the years, he offered me the inside scoop on industry news regularly.

Even his off-the-record and background info steered me in the right direction when there was news to be told.

Swift participated in many industry events. He acted as the ringman many times when ADESA would hold its charity auction at NIADA. He was a regular host at the World Automobile Auctioneers Championship and was always available to help the industry.

Alabama’s Henry Mullinax, another past NIADA president, knew Swift as a friend. He praised Swift’s contribution to the industry and described him as having a “big, ol’ heart.”

That was true.

I remember a photo from one NIADA event he was at. It was a photo Swift asked me to take.

The event featured a boxing theme. Then-NIADA CEO Mike Linn, a friend of Tim’s, wore a Don King-looking wig and he posed with Swift and ADESA’s Tom Caruso.

Swift wanted the photo because he, Caruso and Linn were relatively the same height – meaning, none of them would ever dunk a basketball.

Tim laughed about that, too.

I wish I could have attended one last convention with him.

I’ll miss Tim and I’ll miss our chats and his infectious laugh.

And I’ll miss his “big, ol’ heart.”

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Last modified on Tuesday, 21 December 2021 16:05