Sheila M. Swetnam passed from us on Aug. 29, 2020, in Oak Harbor, Wash. She leaves behind a loving and devoted husband, Robert Swetnam, of Greenbank, Wash., as well as two sons and five grandchildren.
Born in Nottingham, England, in 1930, Sheila was old enough to recall hearing the heartbeats of her terrified mother, Elsie Stevenson, during the German bombing of Coventry in 1940 as they took shelter under the stairs of their house. Evacuated to Wales during World War II, she learned to sing and even speak a few words of Welsh, which she described as an “utterly impossible language.” After the war, Sheila was a high fashion model in London before her father, Clem Stevenson, who was influential within the transport union, secured her a position as assistant purser officer with the Pacific and Orient Shipping Line, usually called the “P&O Line.”
From 1954-56, Sheila crewed on the passenger liners Orontes, Orcades and Oronsay, which carried European immigrants from mostly Mediterranean countries to Australia, a period which is preserved in the Australian Immigration Museum in Adelaide.
Many of the P&O Officers were World War II veterans with little sympathy for female crew. She recalled that, on her first cruise, she had to deliver a radio message to the bridge in a driving rainstorm. Arriving soaked and without her uniform hat which had blown off and away, she triumphantly handed the message to the captain, who grunted and said, “You are out of uniform.” Without doubt, she later looked back on her time in the Merchant Marines as a wonderfully maturing experience.
In 1956, Sheila married William H. Hooper, a metallurgical engineer, who proposed to her upon her arrival into the British port of Tilbury on the Oronsay in February 1956. They would have two children: Guy Hooper was born in Warwickshire, England in 1958, and Niall Hooper was born in Utica, N.Y. in 1963. Sheila passed along her love of art and music to both children, but it was her passion for tennis that translated the most. A fine player with great athleticism, she coached both of her sons to success at various levels. For Guy, her coaching was a gift that translated into a college scholarship, although he would fondly admit that their time on the courts together sometimes got “very competitive.”
In the 1970s, while living in Fairfield, Conn., Sheila loved to take her sons to the U.S. Open tennis tournament where, together, they watched the great players of that era. She was proud of her sons and grandchildren. Niall is a nurse anesthetist and Guy is a retired U.S. Air Force officer. The grandchildren from both sons include a doctor, lawyer, engineer, Air Force pilot and Air Force officer who is also a commercial pilot.
After living in Florida and Mississippi, Sheila and William Hooper moved to Mariners Cove in Oak Harbor, where they built a lovely waterfront house in 1993.
William would pass peacefully in 1998. In 2005, Sheila married Robert Swetnam. She spent her remaining years very happily with Bob, living in Greenbank on a high-bank waterfront house that she loved. During these years, she was a member of PEO and an enthusiastic member of the Whidbey Presbyterian Church choir. Sheila maintained her piano practice and retained her musical ability until very late in her life.
Fiercely intelligent, witty and energetic, Sheila Swetnam lived her life to her own high standards and took from it all that it had to offer. We can only applaud a life so well and fully lived for its 90 years.