Saturday, February 7, 2015

John and Bonnie: A Profile in Oil, Finance, Politics and High Society

I admit to being a skeptic and little impressed by power, position or authority.

In part, the ‘tude goes back to my days as a caddie. I learned the lesson young. I was the youngest at the caddie shack (a converted polo pony stable actually) the first time I caddied in 1964 at the ripe old age of ten. I continued caddying most every day each summer and weekends spring and fall, through 1971. I completed my caddie career after my first year of college in 1972, when I caddied summer weekends to supplement my weekday summer factory job earnings.

I caddied at Glen View Club in Golf Illinois, whose membership included well known doctors and lawyers, financiers, old money rich, merchandisers, bankers and many leading industrialists. It was an exclusive enclave imbued with tradition.The club's pedigree dates back to 1897. Glen View Club once hosted a U.S. Open golf championship. 

On the golf course, my loops (caddie slang for the people we caddied for) were taking a break from their business or professional lives. From a couple of feet, I would see them as they really were -- least so I thought. Do they play by the rules? Does my loop wallow in adversity or dig down deep to overcome it? Is the person focused or flighty? Fast or slow? Is the guy/gal sullen or sunny? Is he/she generous or stingy? Kind or mean? I saw these people as real human beings, exposing their full range of virtues and flaws, no matter how high or mighty might be their station in life.

I recall a particular Glen View Club member -- a gruff and reserved guy who had a paunch and wore wrinkled Bermuda shorts that exposed his pasty white legs. This guy was a woeful golfer who hacked the turf unmercifully and could not clear a water hazard to save his soul. He seemed incapable of improvement. I kind of wondered why he golfed at all. There was little joy and he was totally inept.

He sometimes played couples golf with his much younger wife. His wife was his opposite -- pretty, sunny and vivacious. She affected a Southern belle persona and syrupy accent – more than a bit melodramatically. On the golf course the wife wore short culottes and dressed colorfully and fashionably, her haired dyed golden blonde. She was a pistol. 

Her name was Bonnie. His name was John.

Of course, I did not address members by first name. To me they were Mr. and Mrs. Swearingen. They appeared an odd couple. What brought them together was mystery to me but of no personal consequence, because, at the end of the day, they signed my caddie tickets, so I received $11.50 from the caddie master's cash box for the four hours of work, regardless.

After dinner one evening, I turned on the nightly television news. This was when world oil prices were jumping for the first time since the development of massive oil reserves in Saudi Arabia. Mideast oil potentates had begun flexing their muscles. In the U.S. we were accustomed to paying less than 30 cents a gallon for leaded regular gasoline. OPEC came onto the scene and there was an Arab oil embargo, influencing and then controlling supplies and driving up petroleum prices.

The knee jerk reaction of populist liberals, repeated by the mainstream media, was big oil was behind supply shortages and spiraling prices. Some oil companies bought commercial time to counter the message. 

So it was that night during a commercial break that I heard a familiar voice. I looked up from the newspaper. “Hello,” an impeccably dressed, neatly groomed, well spoken and distinguished businessman said, “I am John Swearingen, President and Chairman of the Board of Standard Oil of Indiana, and I want to talk with you about our commitment to increase oil supplies.” Knock me over with a feather.

The John and Bonnie Show.
John Swearingen, as depicted on the cover
of his book, "Think Ahead."

John Swearingen had become CEO of Standard Oil in 1960 at the age of 41 and would stay at the helm until he retired 23 years later. The Chicago Tribune later described him, "One of the nation's best-known businessman, John E. Swearingen was a strong-willed managerial wizard with an imperious and often abrasive style." Bonnie lived a lavish socialite lifesetyle. She told the New York Times that she loved “the smell of oil, which should be bottled like perfume.”

Media Maven.

John Swearingen was "a highly visible defender of the oil industry during the energy crisis of the the 1970s." During that critical period, he was a regular on the big three (and in those days only) TV networks. John Swearingen was a frequent guest on Sunday morning public affairs shows -- often opposite a Democrat senator or a Carter administration official. He fended off claims by Ralph Nader. He defended the oil industry on Phil Donahue's show. 

The Kane Republican, March 4, 1974
In 1974, John Swearingen countered a politician's wild claims.
-- Sen. Abraham A. Ribicoff, D-Conn., in an appearance on ABC's Issues and Answers, charged that the oil companies have made their highest profits in history while hiding the fact that there is plenty of enough oil to go around.
But John Swearingen, head of Standard Oil Co. of Indiana (Amoco), responded that there is a real shortage of oil due to the continuing Arab oil embargo and other factors.
Jimmy Carter created the Department of Energy. Carter used the agency as a platform to attack the oil industry and to fund and promote failed alternative energy ideas, like synfuels, leaving a legacy of financial black holes that continues to the current day. Carter appointee James Schlesinger ripped into the oil industry for supposed false claims. Swearingen responded to the charges on CBS.
The Pocono Record, April 25, 1977
Schlesinger rips into oil firms 'false' claims. 
WASHINGTON (UPI) -- White House energy chief James Schlesinger accused the oil industry Sunday of making "absolutely invalid" and "misleading" charges that President Carter's energy plan lacks incentives for increased U. S. oil production. Schlesinger said the oil industry wants higher incentives, bigger profits and a larger share of America's gross national product.
What Carter has proposed, he said, is setting the world's highest price for new oil discoveries but offering no additional profit for oil that already has been found."This program has major production incentives," Schlesinger said in an interview on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation."
However,  John Swearingen of Standard Oil told interviewers on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," current industry "prospects" will not qualify for higher new oil prices and "it will take at least five to 10 years before new leases will be acquired on which that kind of price will apply."
He said Carter's energy plan also takes "money away from the industry that exists under the current regulations" because old oil prices would rise at the rate of general inflation while "present law provides 10 per cent with an incentive price in there." 
"When sacrifices are called for, the industry is perfectly willing to make sacrifices," Swearing said, "but additional supplies are not going to be forthcoming unless the value received for the output exceeds the cost of getting them," he said. 
"This program that the President has outlined will actually leave the industry less to drill wells and increase supplies than the industry currently has."
Swearingen rebutted Ralph Nader's hyperbolic claims about the impact of energy price de-regulation during an ABC "Issues and Answers" television appearance.

The Bakersfield Californian, July 15, 1975
Nader's figure get challenge
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Consumer advocate Ralph Nader and John Swearingen, chairman of the board of Standard Oil of Indiana, disagreed Sunday on how much removing price controls from oil would cost consumers.
Nader said, "There is no question" that it will cost the average family $900 a year.
He said oil refineries would raise the price of oil, now limited to $5.25 a barrel, to the world market level.
"Coal will go up, interstate natural gas will go up and the ripple effect in food prices, transportation price, and all the other prices that rely on energy, will also go up," Nader said.
Swearingen appearing with Nader on ABC's "Issues and Answers," said Nader's figure "is absolutely erroneous. You didn't do your arithmetic right."
He said "the energy administration's estimate was only $121 over that period of time. You are trying to scare the public by having a figure of $900 a year." 
Swearingen said he supports President Ford's agreement to go along with removing controls on oil prices over a two-to-three year period, "because continuation of price controls are only going to insure a shortage in the long run."
In the late 1970s, John Swearingen sat down with market moving financial markets journalist Dan Dorfman to discuss the economics of the oil industry. Dorfman asked what it would cost to resolve the country's energy woes.
New York Magazine, June 4, 1977

Seated behind a massive desk befitting his proportions in Standard Indiana's executive offices in Chicago, Swearingen leaned forward, did a bit of pencil-pushing, and came up with a fat figure; an extra 30 cents a gallon.
Such an increase, he told me, would lead to a tremendous step-up in drilling activity in the United States, spark major efforts to build oi-shale plants, and result in widespread installation of facilities to extract oil from known U.S. oil fields (and also, of course, produce much fatter industry profits).
I noted an extra 30 cents a gallon would clearly be a hardship on the poor people in this country. Responded Swearingen (who was paid $512,000 last year): "I'm sympathetic to poor people. But for heaven's sake, let's not ruin our future to take care of a relatively few people when we can handle the [energy] program in another way." Swearingen had another provocative thought on the subject; "What is a man on relief doing owning an automobile? Let's not let our sympathies run away with us."
As for Carter's energy plan, Swearingen rates it a disaster. "It's very one-sided; no way can it succeed," he says. "Carter wants conserve oil, but he's doing nothing to increase supplies."
In a 1978 "Face the Nation" appearance, John Swearingen predicted a 5-cent a gallon gasoline price increase.
Galveston Daily News, December 11, 1978

WASHINGTON (UPI) -- Gasoline prices will increase about five cents per gallon next year, but predicted shortages of gas and home heating oil will not occur, Standard Oil of Indiana's chairman said Sunday. 
John Swearingen, interviewed on CBS's "Face the Nation" program, said a price increase of five cents per gallon is "in the ballpark." 
But he said the size of the increase is dependent upon:
Galveston Daily News, Dec. 11, 1978

-- Prices set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.-- The outcome of labor negotiations at refineries.-- And changes in Department of Energy price regulations.
Standard of Indiana numbers among the nation's eight largest oil refiners.
Swearingen attributed the recent spot shortages in unleaded gasoline to an "extraordinary increase in consmption this fall" and governmental regulations.
Under current rules, an oil company must continue to supply any customer it had in 1973, and switching supplies to other areas of the country is banned. 
"The fact that we are under price regulation has inhibited the ability of the industry to supply what the people want a the places they want it," he noted. 
He said free floating prices would have "increased the supply significantly." 
As Jimmy Carter revved up his 1980 re-election campaign, John Swearingen took off the gloves. Speaking on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute, he called the Carter administration a "bunch of amateurs."

Spokane Spokesman Review, September 12, 1979

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) -- A top U.S. oil executive told reporters on Wednesday a "bunch of amateurs" in the Carter administration are threatening petroleum supplies with policies aimed at winning votes in the 1980 presidential election.
John E. Swearingen, chief executive of Standard Oil of Indiana and chairman of the American Petroleum Institute, said oil companies could provide Americans with all the gas and oil they need if the government keeps its hands off the industry.
"I think we've got a bunch of amateurs running the government,"Swearingen told American reporters in his suite at a Bucharest hotel.
"And their primary concer in the campaign of 1980."
"He's president of the United States," Swearingen said, "but I don't believe he's acknowledged as leader of the Democratic Party."
Swearingen singled out the windfall profit tax, a major part of the president's energy program. He said the tax was not, as the president has said, a tax on profits but "an excise tax on crude oil" which would be passed on to the consumer. 
It's going to make it less attractive to search for oil in the U. S. than elsewhere,: he said. "I think it's a step absolutely in the wrong direction."
He said he was convinced the world had enough oil and gas to last at least 100 years "but not at yesterday's prices."
Instability in the Middle East, particularly in Iran, threatens to interrupt the flow of oil from the area over the next two to five years.
"It's almost a cinch to have another interruption over there," he said, considering the number of potential Middle East flash points -- including Iran, Iraqi design on Kuwait, and the fragile Egyptian-Israeli peace process."
Later during that election year, John Swearingen sat down for an interview with Phil Donahue, who seemed more interested in psychology than economics.
On March 14, 1980, John Swearingen, chairman of the the board of Standard Oil of Indian, had this exchange on the Phil Donahue show:

Donahue: You know, one of the biggest misgivings people have, I think, about oil companies is that you appear to make more money every time OPEC raises its price. You benefit from the OPEC monopoly.
Swearingen: Yes, we do.
Donahue: Doesn't that make you feel just a little guilty?
Swearingen: No, it doesn't. I'm delighted that we can find additional oil any place in the world that will add to the supplies in this country.
The Carter administration's inept tenure indeed was marked by inadequate oil supplies, rationing, and and long, frustrating gas lines. You just haven't lived until you've waited two hours to fill up at a gas station, only to be sent home disappointed because the underground tanks ran dry. Shortages persisted until Ronald Reagan was elected president. 

Under Reagan's drill, baby drill initiatives, monetary reforms and tax policies, and smart strategic geopolitical moves, oil prices (and general inflation) were slashed, oil supplies boomed, and oil company profits plummeted. The economic and industrial beast of the United States again was unleashed -- employment and household incomes grew by leaps and bounds and punishing consumer price increases became a thing of the past.

Looking back on the Carter years, John Swearingen issued a scathing condemnation of the mainstream media.

The Seguin Gazette Enterprise, December 26, 1982

News Media People Get A Spanking 
Comment By Paul Harvey
"South Bend, Indiana: Standard Oil Chairman John Swearingen says news coverage of American business is often distorted. And Swearingen says that's because many reporters don't know much about business issues, or are biased against free-market solution to economic problems. Swearingen spoke yesterday in South Bend, Indiana at a conference on the responsibilities of journalists."
With 37 words UPI thus "reported" a 3,600 word speech.
AP did not report at all.
On the chance that his remarks included a spanking we media people deserve, let's examine them more thoroughly.
Mr Swearingen said: "The ability of the news business to shape public opinion is formidable."
"When the public is aroused but misinformed the opportunities for mischief are endless."
Mr. Swearingen documents his indictment with specifics.
When the president of Mobil Oil went to court challenging some Washington Post articles, the court agreed with him.
After which the executive director of the Wall Street Journal wrote: "It's a great commentary on our times when a jury finds for an oil company against a newspaper."
Mr. Swearingen recalled the "steady stream of misinformation" which followed the Arab oil embargo, implying there was a shadowy conspiracy between our industry and OPEC to drive up prices, that our oil reserves were being hidden, that we were capping wells, slowing down transportation, that loaded tankers were lurking offshore waiting for prices to rise.
And the daily "condamnation" by politicians was parroted by the media as the denounced oilmen as "profiteers" and "rip-off artist" whose profits were "obscene," "sinful' one said "pornographic."
"Sensationalism," said Swearingen,  "is perhaps the single most important element that shapes the new and sensationalism, by its very definition, gives rise to distortion."
He acknowledge that's the side on which our bread is buttered.
He said, "It is as natural for the media to lean toward panic-mongering and crisis mongering as it is for a plant to lean toward sunlight."
Thus, "television news" is less news than it is "show business."
He cited an interview with himself during the oil crisis, an in-depth interview lasting an hour and 40 minutes, edited to less than one minute.
He cited the hypocrisy of media references to "the oil business monopoly" when the oil business is divided among 20 major companies while the television news business is monopolized by three.
Nor have I not done justice to John Swearingen's rebuttal, but I have tried.
A Stout Man Builds Tall and Slim.

John Swearingen bequeathed Chicago "Big Stan." Readers in the Chicago area now know this skyscraper as Aon Center. At 1,137 feet, after Willis Tower and the Trump International Hotel and Tower, Aon Center is currently the third tallest building in Chicago. The building plan was announced in 1977.
Pittsburgh Press, January 16, 1977

Standard Oil Plans Tallest Chicago Building
CHICAGO (UPI) -- Standard Oil Co. (Indiana) announced plans to construct the tallest building in Chicago, 31 feet higher than the 100-story John Hancock Bldg.
The Standard building will be on air rights over Illinois Central tracks at Randolph and Michigan according to John E. Swearingen, chairman of the corporation.
The building is about a mile and a half south of the Hancock Bldg., currently the tallest in Chicago. Although it will have 20 fewer stories, it will be higher than the Hancock Bldg., Mr. Swearingen said.The Hancock Bldg. is 1105 feet. The next tallest Chicago building is the First National Bank Bldg., 800 feet. 
Here is the full story on the Standard Oil Building.

Aon Center – Amoco Standard Oil Building

[Aon Center - Amoco Standard Oil Building (1974) Edward Durell Stone, architect; Perkins & Will associate architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

When John D. Rockefeller died in 1937 he was the world’s richest person – a title that
 he has been able to hold on to even though he’s been dead for over 75 years. If you able were to gather together the estimated net worth of today’s top 5 billionaires and put all that money into one account, that horde of cash still wouldn’t reach Rockefeller’s net worth at the time of his death – which would be around $365 billion in 2013 dollars. His fortune was based on oil – the gathering, refining, marketing and selling of the planet’s liquid gold. But according to the federal government the oil tycoon’s control of 90% of the domestic market was illegal, and in 1911 the billionaire was compelled to break-up his Standard Oil Trust into a series of subsidiaries, one of which, Standard Oil of Indiana, was based in the midwest and headquartered in Chicago.

Standard Oil had maintained offices in Chicago since the 1880s and in 1927 consolidated their scattered work spaces into one location on south Michigan Avenue. Forty-years later when company chairman John Swearingen decided that it was time to move, Standard of Indiana had grown into one of the world’s largest oil-producing corporations and the old building didn’t prominently proclaim the company’s dominant presence in the global marketplace. He picked a potentially eye-catching site on the north edge of Grant Park at Randolph Street close to the 41-story Prudential Building and a little west of the 40-story Outer Drive East apartment building.
Standard Oil sign and old building on S. Michigan Ave. 
Standard purchased land that sat several feet below the elevated deck of Randolph which bridged a sliver of acreage that belonged to the Illinois Central Railroad. The property had once been the home of the massive railyard of the Illinois Central Railroad, and while the rail line had begun making plans for a monumental redo of their lake front acreage in the late 1920s, the Great Depression and the Second World War stymied their efforts. So the plan didn’t really start to take shape until the Prudential Insurance Company built their project in the early 1950s. After securing the site, Swearingen selected over two dozen architectural firms to submit ideas, narrowed the field, had the remaining firms refine their proposals, and the winner ended up being New York-based architect Edward Durell Stone with Chicago-based Perkins & Will as the local architects of record. Stone would be responsible for the overall design of the building while Perkins & Will would take on the job of translating the concept into the actual working drawings and oversee construction.

Swearingen was a Chicago powerhouse. Standard of Indiana employed over 8,000  people in the region, and it was during the native South Carolinian’s tenure that the company went from what he considered a “second rate” oil company, into one of the world’s largest corporations. Architect Edward Durell Stone got noticed after designing the new home of New York’s Museum of Modern Art with Phillip Goodwin in 1939. He gained international recognition in 1954 for his U.S. Embassy building in New Dehli, and designed the General Motors Building and the controversial museum building for Huntington Hartford in New York City in 1964. The facade of the new, 83-story, Standard Oil skyscraper resembled Stone’s General Motors project but the internal structure of the equal-sided square tower in Chicago was supported by the exterior wall frame and an inner central core which provided for column-free floor plates, much like the design architect Minoru Yamasaki’s would utilize for his World Trade Center buildings in lower Manhattan.

When the building was completed in 1974 it was the tallest building in the city, and was a very publicly projecting testament to John Swearingen’s tenure. Stone’s structural-plan-providing narrow vertical bands of windows framed by equally narrow vertical bands clad in white Cararra marble made the already towering skyscraper appear even taller. Unfortunately the choice of the Italian-quarried-stone proved to be a bad one. Given Chicago’s unforgiving climate the marble slabs didn’t hold up well when faced with the city’s weather extremes. In 1992 Standard Oil of Indiana, now known as Amoco, undertook a massive de-construction/reconstruction of their four 1,136-foot tall facades and replaced the marble with a more climate resistant granite. John Swearingen had retired by then, and in 1998 British Petroleum began retiring the Amoco brand after purchasing the American-based conglomerate. BP began moving personnel out to the suburbs soon thereafter, and in 1999 the Aon insurance company moved into the vacated space. They took on the name of the tower for themselves, then in 2012 Aon moved their corporate headquarters to London. Ironically, ten years after BP began moving personnel to the burbs, the company moved back into the city since their increasingly younger workforce had chosen the city over the suburbs. However, BP did not choose to re-relocate back into the Stone/Swearingen tower.

My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean (Including Indonesia, The Phillipines, Africa & Europe).

People Magazine, concurred my with assessment on the mysterious pairing of Bonnie and John and explained why it worked nevertheless.
As human beings they are poles apart, but together John and Bonnie Swearingen  comprise one of the business world's most magnetic couples. At 63, he, the portly, scholarly and conservative $635,000-a-year chairman of Standard Oil Company (Indiana). Bonnie, about 50 (the number is unlisted) is a bubbly Southern belle, who tried four times to be Miss Alabama, had a fling as an actress and is now arching eyebrows in her adopted hometown of Chicago with her sexy outfits and sassy talk. She collects famous friends and calls one and all "Honey." A longtime associate of John's concedes, "She has put a wide smile on his face -- he used to be so grim." 
John and Bonnie Swearingen both were provocative and made news -- John on the front page and in the business section taking on the liberal establishment, and Bonnie in shaking up high society in the style section and on women's pages. 

After graduating college in 1955 Bonnie moved to Hollywood and became an actress. She had bit parts in many movies, including the Garment Jungle, The Brothers Rico, No Time to Be Young and Bundle of Joy. On TV, she appeared on Have Gun Will Travel, Alcoa Theater and Cheyenne. Her acting career coincided with the time that her sister, Margie, was a very special friend of Mickey Mantle.

Boonie Swearingen, later 1950s

Movie Poster, The Garment Jungle (Bonnie, second from right)

Bonnie Swearingen (far right) with her sisters, late 1950s..

Bonnie married two other men previous to John Swearingen, a circumstance she did not fondly recollect.

Texas Monthly, September, 1982
After marrying John Swearingen, Bonnie kept in touch with old actress friend, Ann Miller, who she entertained at Glen View Club during a trip when Ann visited Hef on a swing through Chicago.

In Hollywood
 ENCORE: Ann Miller was such a hit in "Hello Dolly!" on the Kenley Theater circuit that they're bringing her back for another two weeks to wind up their summer stock season ... Annie, the gal who hobnobs with shahs and maharajas, tells us she finally met Playboy's Hugh Hefner -- for the first time. What a thrill that must have been. She stopped off in Chicago on her way back from New York after taping her 'Dames at Sea' tv special and was given the royal tour of the Hefner manse. She says he a a little Eurasian girl with a guitar in tow. Could she have been Barbi Benton? Also, while in the Windy City, she was wined and dined by beautiful Bonnie Swearingen (Standard Oil) at the Glen View Country Club. Tres posh.
Bonnie Swearingen was not a big fan of the women's lib movement. She already considered she had it all. You could hardly dispute that.

Women are tigers, Bonnie says

The Wheeling Herald, July 15, 1976
"Underneath every women's delicate little girl (image)" says Bonnie Swearingen, "is a tiger who will stand up for her rights." The blond wife of John Swearingen, the Standard Oil of Indiana's board chariman, was setting the record straight in a speech to the Chicago Rotary Club on "America's Greatest Natural Resource" Woman." In its Mrs. Swearingen, one of Chicago's most visible wives, said she disliked being called a "socialite," maintaining it is "shallow and antiquated." She said she washes dishes, scrubs floors and takes out garbage like other women.

She also dislike the term "housewife" because she is "a man's wife -- not married to a house." Elegantly dress and coiffed, Mrs. Schwearingen scoff at women's libbers, charging they have turned the movement "into a crusade without a purpose."
Note that Bonnie didn't say she cooked.

Here is how a society columnist at the Chicago Tribune described Bonnie.


She burst onto the Chicago society scene, and nearly bombed, in 1969, when she became the second wife of John Swearingen, then chairman of Standard Oil of Indiana.

Who was this woman, twice previously married to oilmen, and a former actress, for heaven`s sake -- in ``Have Gun, Will Travel``? Chicago society soon found out, and in no time, Bonnie was being described as ``a 5-foot bundle of persuasive moxie,`` having practically bludgeoned the Boys Club Women`s Board into getting their faltering act together again.
Bonnie Swearingen riding down State Street.
Today we hear a little less of Bonnie`s good deeds, but we still hear from Bonnie, embattled in 1983, for example, over several thousand dollars`worth of gifts donated for a Children`s Home and Aid Society auction that she used for prizes, awarding two to herself for meritorious ticket sales.

If Bonnie is no longer alone at the top of the social heap, she still gets around, and makes no secret of it. Who but Bonnie could--would--begin a sentence ``As Ronald Reagan said when we were with him on New Year`s Eve. . . ?`` Some take this as evidence that Bonnie lacks humility. But, listen, if you stand around shuffling the shy foot while waiting for others to toot your horn, it may never get tooted.

``You`re the star,`` Charles Boyer once advised Bonnie on the ``Alcoa Presents`` sound stage. ``You should behave like a star.`` Bonnie does.
Another columnist described Bonnie thus.

Bonnie Swearingen, ageless wife of former Standard Oil CEO John Swearingen, has always made the grandes dames nervous. The thrice-married daughter of an Alabama preacher, she spent a few years as a minor TV and movie actress in the 1950s and was included in a recent feature on CEO`s attractive second wives. She has ridden elephants, told tony Town & Country magazine she liked to eat honey before making love and has been photographed with everyone alive.
Bonnie Swearingen primped and posed with actress friend Mary Martin (best known for starring in the original Broadway production of Peter Pan) and then UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim for a presentation in New York.
Playground Daily News, 
October 26, 1975

PEACE RUG -- With the huge needlepoint "Peace Rug" on the wall behind them, U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, Mrs. John Swearingen of Chicago, and entertainer Mary Martin pose for photographers at the dedication ceremony. The Peace Rug consists of 138 squares, each measuring 16 inches, of the crest of the arms of the states which were U.N. members at the time the project was completed. The rug is the work of 133 women and five men and contains more than nine million sticthes. It took more than two years to complete.
The "Peace Rug" (below) hung for many years in the lobby of the UN Building in New York.

Bonnie borrowed a yacht from close friend and landlord, Arthur Wirtz, who was also owner of the Chicago Black Hawks hockey team, as a platform to celebrate her sister's upcoming nuptials.

Bonnie Stages 'Dames At Sea' Remake

ABOARD THE BLACKHAWK ... It was an updated, slightly Southern, version of "Dames at Sea" when Bonnie Swearingen hosted a "shape up and then ship out" party aboard a yacht anchored in Biscayne Bay.

Bonnie, the wife of John Swearingen, president of Standard Oil of Indiana, wanted to give her sister, Margie Bolding, a last fling. Margie, one of five Bolding sisters, is being married Nov. 20 in Birmingham, Ala. to an Iranian Prince, Koshro Shadab.
Palm Beach Daily News, November 16, 1978

Bonnie borrowed a yacht from Arthur Wirtz. He docked the "Blackhawk" at the Palm Bay Club in Miami and turned the ship over to "Les Girls." Bonnie invited all her sisters plus a few friends. They all made the scene with the exception of the prospective bride, and Christina Ford.

"Margie had no idea how big her wedding was going to be. When she realized that just everyone was coming, including Elizabeth Taylor, she decided to stay home and pull things together.
Another time, Bonnie did get together with Christina Ford, wife of auto magnate Henry Ford II. Bonnie and Christina were friends as well of Imelda Marcos, wife of Phillipine President Ferdinand Marcos. Henry Ford II was rumored (accurately it turns out) to be involved with an extra-marital relationship with Kathy DuRoss. Christina Ford was rumored to be involved in a sexual relationship with Imelda Marcos. As for the accuracy of that rumor, well -- read on.

The Fords An American Epic p. 303

Bonnie tweaked her friend.

The Fords, An American Epic, p. 314

The pre-wedding soiree was not the first time Bonnie had set foot on the Blackhawk. Reporting on an earlier party, the Palm Beach Daily detailed the yacht's sumptuous quarters.

Palm Beach Daily, March 13, 1978

Bonnie Hosts Party Aboard Yacht

When Bonnie Swearingen pulled up to the Brazilian docks on board the Blackhawk Tuesday, she knew how to get things stirred up. Her first call was to Brownie McLean with the instructions" "Bring some people over." Brownie gladly did.

A group trouped over to the 123 foot Feadship for cocktails and an inspection of the Blackhawk, owned by Arthur Wirtz, which boasts a 30-foot lounge, seven complete baths, four owner's staterooms, five deep freezes -- and a crew of seven.


The Blackhawk was docked here until Friday morning when it returned to the Palm Bay Club in Miami. Bonnie, the wife of Standard Oil of Indiana Chairman John Swearingen, was traveling with a group of six women -- all old and dear friends. 

Bonnie was especially elegant and radiant for Ronald Reagan's 1981 inaugural ball -- and proud of it.
The Fords, An American Epic

Ronald Reagan had free the business classes from the public scorn that had never really ended after the Great Depression, and had been whipped up anew by the counterculture of the 1960s. By equating wealth with the American ethic of hard work, the sense that anyone could make it who was willing to sacrifice, Reagan had made material acquisition fashionable again. The new sensibility was perfect enunciated by Bonnie Swearingen, the wife of John E. Swearingen, chairman of the Standard Oil Company of Indiana, while she was attending an inauguration ball at the Kennedy Center. As she sauntered through the ballroom wearing an emerald and diamond necklace and matching earrings, she told a reporter that she was proud to be displaying the fruits of her husband's hard work. "It's getting a little tiresome to always have to apologize for ourselves," she said. "If a little girl from Alabama whose father was a minister can appear in public wearing jewels and gowns, it should be a symbol to everyone that they can do it too."

No celebrity or politician was immune from Bonnie's charms.
Bonnie Swearingen with comedian Bob Hope and Richard J. Daley, mayor.

Bonnie's picture showed up everywhere, including Ebony magazine,

Ebony, May 1979
And Jet.

Jet, May 19, 1977
There was a coming out party of note where the record fails to show if Bonnie was invited.

Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1975
National briefs
Nixon honored at dinner party
PALM DESERT, Cal. -- Rich and famous friends of former President Nixon gathered Saturday to honor him at a celebrity-packed party given by Publisher Walter Annenberg, former ambassador to Britain. It was the first big social affair for Nixon and his wife since he quit the Presidency. Among the guess for a sit-down dinner were former Gov. Ronald Reagan; Leonard Firestone, ambassador to Belgium; John Swearingen, chairman of the board, Standard Oil Co. (Indiana); and entertainers Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. It was Nixon's first break from the self-imposed isolation of his seaside villa in San Clemente, Cal., since he left office Aug. 29. 
Bonnie would later would party with Dick, and then jet off to Morocco with Imelda Marcos to dine with King Hassan and the Shah of Iran.
'Song and Dance' By Dick Nixon Opens Royal Filipino Weekend
For some people the highlight of the party was the sight of Richard M. Nixon hopping about between bamboo poles as he performed a traditional Filipino dance, then sitting at the piano to play a love song he'd written for his wife 48 years ago. For Bonnie Swearingen, however, the high point was an invitation from hostess Imelda Marcos to accompany her on a visit to Morocco's King Hassan II via private jet.
Palm Beach Daily News, February 15, 1981
The party took place in New York and Bonnie -- whose husband heads Standard Oil of Indiana -- is back from her jaunt.
A typical lunch, she recalls, included caviar, lobster, a white fish, beer, Moroccan vegetables with chicken and rice and a whole roast lamb from which guest broke off individual chunks. All topped off with fresh fruit, tarts and macaroons. But the most memorable meal was a lunch on the golf course, for which royal crystal and china were brought from the palace.
Bonnie Swearingen, 1981
Just before the meal began, the young Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, zoomed up in his sportscar. "I Hadn't seen him since he was 8 years old," says Bonnie, "and at 21 he's handsome and brilliant." Bonnie's predicted: "He's going to be a great leader. He plans some day to return and lead his country." 
At the king's farewell gala for his guests, he conducted a 100-piece orchestra. Bonnie was presented with a white wool hooded robe ("One of the wraps I will take to Washington"), a gold picture frame encrusted with coral, diamonds and lapis and an autographed photo of the king. Marcos gave Hasan a 16th-century silver throne chair and in turn receive a solid gold vanity set.
People magazine gushed over Bonnie's contributions to team Swearingen.

Oil Executive John Swearingen Has a Private Energy Source: His Wife Bonnie

UPDATED 11/30/1981 at 01:00 AM EST  Originally published 11/30/1981 at 01:00 AM EST
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The couple spend half the year globe-trotting on company business (Indiana Standard ranks ninth on the FORTUNE 500). Last week they headed for Cairo, where John was scheduled to receive the country's highest civilian award from President Hosni Mubarak. Anwar Sadat arranged for the honor before his assassination, and the Swearingens intend to visit his widow, Jihan, whom they entertained in Chicago last spring. Bonnie relishes hobnobbing with heads of state. She talks exuberantly about "dinner with Ronnie" and "darling Imelda," the wife of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos.
A telling item in the Swearingens' 10-room apartment, high above Lake Michigan, is a needlepoint pillow with the message: "Napoleon lives! I am married to him." Bonnie exclaims, "I'm mad for Napoleon, honey. I dreamed of Napoleon every night before I married John."
Their 1969 union stunned Chicago society. John divorced a wife of 26 years who had borne him three daughters; she had already been through two marriages to Texas oilmen. The jokes were often cruel, e.g., "Maybe Bonnie feels she needs a change of oil." She quickly lived up to her reputation for daring by confiding to Town & Country that she liked eating "honey with the honeycombs, especially just before making love." To another interviewer she announced that she made her husband's breakfast wearing nothing but emeralds. Even now she persists in telling reporters, "I just love oil. If it could be made into a perfume, I'd wear it."
Bonnie has become a leading charity organizer and the first woman ever to sit on the national board of the Boys' Clubs—but the "old money" in Chicago still views her with suspicion. A rival hostess once dismissed her as "one of those Alabama Gabors."
Even John Swearingen occasionally winces at his wife's excesses. Yet he is devoted both to her and to her party-going ways. "John is a bright man who likes to associate with the bright people in the upper crust," says Bill Moore, a retired Indiana Standard executive. "Bonnie is a good-looking asset, she loves the social whirl and loves to talk business."
John grew up in Columbia, S.C. in a quiet Southern family. His early inspiration was his father, John Eldred, who was blinded in a hunting accident at 13 but managed to graduate from college Phi Beta Kappa and later served 14 years as South Carolina's commissioner of education. John himself was an admitted grind ("I'm probably the only company chief who's had six years of Latin"). He attended the University of South Carolina and by 20 had a master's in chemical engineering from Pittsburgh's Carnegie Tech.
A professor there steered Swearingen to Indiana Standard, where he got a job in the research labs. His industriousness caught the eye of Frank Prior, the company president. Under Prior's tutelage John began a fast rise, during which he pressed for the vigorous expansion of oil exploration and production in the U.S. and overseas. At present Indiana Standard has more undeveloped U.S. oil and gas land—39 million acres—than any other company. Swearingen became a director at 33, president at 39 and chief executive at 41. This year the FORTUNE 500 chief executive officers named him the second-best CEO in the nation (after GE's Reginald Jones). Says Bonnie: "John should have been No. 1."
Born in Birmingham, she was one of seven children of Thomas Bolding, a poor, itinerant Church of Christ minister. She placed high enough in all those Miss Alabama contests to earn tuition for Birmingham's Samford U, where she studied drama. "She wanted badly to do well," recalls an old friend, Margaret Sizemore, now assistant to Samford's president. "She once asked me in her very appealing way to polish her rough edges."
After graduation Bonnie headed for California, where she studied drama at the Pasadena Playhouse and landed a few TV and movie roles, such as in Bundle of Joy with Debbie Reynolds. Along the way she married two Lone Star wheeler-dealers—first John Manley, then Oscar Wyatt Jr.—from whom she picked up oil expertise and a portfolio of oil stocks. After divorcing Wyatt in the early '60s she moved to Manhattan and worked as a stockbroker for five years at Shearson, Hammill.
Bonnie considered buying a seat on the Stock Exchange but lost interest when she found she could not be the first woman on the Exchange. One day in 1968 John Swearingen came to a stockbrokers' meeting on Wall Street. Bonnie, who was then dating a friend of John's, was also there. Soon she switched partners. By February 1969 Swearingen had gotten his divorce; three months later he wed Bonnie. Her mother, Gertha, told Bonnie, "If anything happens to this marriage it will be your fault, because he's the best you've ever had."
John immediately took Bonnie to Indonesia, Africa and Egypt, where he had Indiana Standard business to conduct. Another company executive traveled with them. Says Bonnie today, "He owes me a honeymoon. I'd like to go back to Bali, but this time live in a grass hut, swim topless, eat fish and nibble on wild flowers."
Bonnie exercises religiously, diets ("I do all of them, honey") and golfs. Although blind in one eye since age 6 when a playmate threw a pebble at her, she also is a crack shot.
As for the chill she encountered in Chicago, she says, "You must remember John had a very trying divorce, but the people of substance accepted me for what I was. The biggest challenge was to have a life for Bonnie and still give my husband first call. For John the first call is his company. I'm far down the list. As soon as he steps out of the shower in the morning he's not mine anymore: He belongs to the company." Bonnie rises at 6:30 and pours her husband's coffee to let it cool. "John considers waiting for coffee to become drinkable a great waste of executive time," she explains. "We always have breakfast together and I always kiss him before he leaves. It's a lot like sending a child off to school."
And after class? "Travel is one of the things I like best," Bonnie says. "I love getting to know the people who run the world. I look around me and still can't believe that the little girl from Alabama with all of her enthusiasm and naiveté is sitting with people like Imelda Marcos. My God, honey," she adds, "sometimes they even listen to me." 
When a report on Bonnie was less than glowing, she engaged a high profile lawyer to blithely dismiss it.

Lake and Ledger, June 16, 1983

Bonnie Swearingen settles flap with children's home raffle
The talk of Illinois and a lot of other bit states has been over a recent item in Irv Kupcinet's column. It set the upper levels shuddering. The genial Chicago columnist, Kup, noted that Bonnie Swearingen, wife of the chairman of Standard Oil of Indiana, had "resigned from the board of the Illinois Children's Home and Aid Society and engaged attorney Don Rubin to defend her." This enigmatic little tease had society and the power brokers asking the inevitable question -- "Defend her from what?" Rumors ran rampant that the pretty and vivacious Bonnie (always a favorite of President Lyndon Johnson) had run afoul of the charity ladies she worked with when she undertook to collect prizes for a raffle of expensive gifts, solicited from Neiman-Marcus, David Webb, Horchow, etc. The items were said to have been sent to the John Swearingen home and not to have turned up on the raffle lists. The rumor went even further, to the effect that the Illinois Children's Home and Aid  Society would sue Mrs. Swearingen for "theft and fraud." Do tell, Her Lawyer, the aforesaid Don Rubin, of Rubin and Proctor, was asked if the aforementioned was true. Rubin, another genial Chicagoan, lauged and said" "Of course not! Mrs. Swearingen has been my client for many years, so I did not 'take her case.' I will tell you that the charity did not make any such claim of intent. I was all resolve and the differences are long gone. You know, it took about four minutes of my time. Somebody is just trying to make trouble for her. It was a little hassle, not uncommon, about the handling of a charity raffle -- no big deal." Oh, that's good.
Bonnie's lawyer's dismissal of the criticism was effective -- that is, until she opened her own mouth.

Sarasota Herald Tribune, July 6, 1983
ON JUNE 14, this column discussed the matter of the wealthy BONNIE SWEARINGEN, wife of the chairman of Standard Oil of Indiana and friend to many presidents, and her resignation from the board of the Illinois Children's Home & Aid Society. It was all over the matter of gifts collected by Bonnie for a raffle which never made their way into being raffled off.
Bonnie's attorney, DON REUBEN, gave me a list of charming soft ansers intended to explain that his client had resolved the problem with the charity amicably and it wasn't a big deal and "too four minutes of my time." I though his defense of his cline was self evident (why did she need defending in the first place?) but I printied exactly what he said. Well it seems many at the I.C.H. & A Society think I was "hornswaggled" by Mr. Reuben, "taken in" and snookered." Rumors still persist, say they, that Bonie wrote out a check for $20,000 to settle the matter rather than go to court.
I don't know about that, but I do know Bonnie has now more pr less hung herself with statements made to the Chicago Tribune clarifying her position. She says, "Those gifts were given to me to do with as I saw fit. What I did was award prizes to people to get them to work. I gave a prize to the person who sold the most raffle tickets, which was me, and a prize to the person who sold the second most raffle tickets, which was my sister, and a prize to the person who sold the third most tickets, which was my other sister. And then there was another prize given to the person who sol the winning raffle ticket, which one of my sisters also won. Now I'm getting damn tired of all those rumors, of people assuming things. Saying that Bonnie kept the prizes. I didn't keep them. I awarded them.
Mrs. Swearingen said after she received a call from the board's lawyer, she agreed to return the gifts. Actually, when Bonnie has herself for a friend, evidently she doesn't need enemies. 
Another time, Chicago Police cited Bonnie Swearingen for disorderly conduct.
Naples Daily News, June 30, 1976
I will defend her on this one. If Mr. Kabus had put his luggage on my car, I probably would have knocked Kabus' bags to the pavement as well.

Another time, a columnist mocked Bonnie Swearingen and her high living ways just prior to John Swearingen's retirement from Standard Oil. 
Palm Beach Daily News, June 29, 1983
What follows are the real temptations of real people, the imaginery temptations of real people adn the imaginary temptations of imaginary people. You decide which is which. 
-- Bonnie Swearingen, oil mogu's wife: "I want to have my own private plane, preferably a G3. We get to fly in it once more before my husband retires. I will miss flying on a private jet so much. It's not an easy lifestyle, but I wouldn't have any other lifestyle in the world."
John Swearingen did indeed retire from Standard Oil (which became Amoco, then BP Amoco via merger and today is known as BP) in late 1983 when he reached the standard retirement age of 65.

John Swearingen Rescues A Too Big To Fail Bank.

Within a year after retiring form Standard Oil/Amoco, John Swearingen was back at it. He was called back to work to rescue the failing Continental Bank, which had taken it on the chin from oil industry loan defaults, and good old fashioned bank runs when depositors lost confidence in the bank.

The Index Journal, July 27, 1984
Columbia man key figure in bank rescue
COLUMBIA (AP) -- John Swearingen, a graduate of the University of South Carolina College of Engineering, is a major player in the largest bank rescue ever, a $4.5 billion aid pack for giant Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Co., announced by the government on Thursday.Swearingen will be the new chairman of the bank's parent company. 
Continental, a once-aggressive lender now burdened with a huge portfolio of bad loans, is one of the nation's 10 largest banks.
Continental which had pursued a strategy of aggressive lending to its industrial customers, had bought $1 billion in energy-related loans from Penn Square in the late 1970s. Last spring, Continental's troubles reached the critical point. 
Rumors circulated in financial markets of its potential problems, sparking a loss of billions of dollars in deposits.
Swearingen had a swift response to those saw his move into banking at the FDIC's behest, inconsistent with his historical aversion to government control.

Sarasota Herald Tribune, July 28, 1984
FDIC Banking On Swearingen For Success

Herald-Tribune Reporter
When a business is failing, one of the most important tasks of its executives is to re-instill the confidence of the public and the stockholders. 
That is what John E. Swearingen, former head of Standard Oil of Indiana, must now do for Continental Illinois Corp., the holding company of the failing Continental Illinois Bank.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which recently committed $3.7 billion to save the Chicago bank, has hired Swearingen to persuade depositors and borrowers that Continental will right itself.
Swearingen's stature as a business leader and his reputation as an administrator made him the obvious and the only choice, said William D. Isaac, chairman of the FDIC.
Swearingen has been outspoken about what he saw as government interference in business but being the government-picked director of an unprecedented federal banks bailout does not seem to bother him.
"You have a single large stockholder, which is the FDIC," he said, "But they will not interfere in the day-to-day operations of the bank. To describe this as the government taking over ... would be erroneous."
Three and one half years later John Swearingen retired again, after having "led Continental Illinois Bank back from the brink of failure."

John and Bonnie Leave Educational Legacies.

The Swearingens were thankful for their educational opportunities and late in life gave generously to the colleges they attended.

Reflecting Bonnie Swearingen's interests and career in the arts, in 2006 the couple funded the renamed Swearingen Hall at Samford University (named Howard College when she graduated in 1955).

Samford Dedicates Renamed Swearingen Hall

"...A gift from Swearingen provided for refurbishing Harrison Theatre, the theatre lobby and box office, dressing rooms and Bolding Studio, the former music recital hall which has been reconfigured and updated to allow for both music and theatre performances..."

unveiling of the portrait of Bonnie SwearingenFollowing the theme of “hometown girl made good,” Samford University dedicated Bonnie Bolding Swearingen Hall Oct. 14.  The building, which includes the north wing of Samford’s fine arts complex, houses Ben F. Harrison Theatre, Bolding Studio, the Samford Art Gallery and offices and classrooms for the theatre and art departments.
Swearingen, who grew up in Birmingham, graduated from then Howard College in 1955.  She had a career in Hollywood and as a stockbroker before her marriage to John Swearingen, retired chief executive officer of Standard Oil.  She currently serves on Samford’s board of overseers.
A gift from Swearingen provided for refurbishing Harrison Theatre, the theatre lobby and box office, dressing rooms and Bolding Studio, the former music recital hall which has been reconfigured and updated to allow for both music and theatre performances.  Bolding Studio is named for Swearingen’s parents.

Samford’s board of trustees chair William Stevens of Birmingham set the tone for the ceremony when he said, “The measure of success for any institution of higher learning is the success that institution’s graduates have after they complete their course of study.  Today, we get to celebrate such a success.”

Before an audience that included guests from Europe, Chicago, California, New York and Houston, Swearingen recounted her initial reluctance to attend her hometown college.  Her decision was influenced by being named first runner-up in the Miss Alabama pageant.

“I wanted to be Miss Alabama.  I knew that if I ever got on the stage in Atlantic City, I would be Miss America.  But, it was not to be,” Swearingen said.  “I learned then that it is not what you do that are successes, it’s the failures that make you what you are.  It’s the failure that I didn’t win the Miss Alabama title that I really wanted that led me to this point.

“I wanted to go to Vassar or Harvard or Yale.  [Howard] was not exactly on my horizon.  But, those schools did not want me, and I received a scholarship to attend Howard through the Miss Alabama pageant.”

Swearingen Hall, Samford Univeristy
Swearingen pointed to then college President Harwell G. Davis, Academic Dean Percy Burns and Dean of Students Margaret Sizemore as influences who welcomed her and affirmed her.

“I never thought how important all of that was until later.  It was those other, little avenues of opportunity outside class that gave me a touch of what life was to become,” Swearingen said.  “I have met the world, and I was comfortable doing that because my experiences at Howard College taught me a lot.”

Samford’s President Emeritus Thomas E. Corts recalled his first encounters with the Swearingens and realized early that “John knows very well how to let Bonnie take the lead.”

Corts noted that colleges usually have three categories of alumni:  loyalists, returnees and drop-outs.  “We are grateful that Bonnie Bolding Swearingen has been a Samford loyalist from the start.”

The John E. Swearingen Engineering Center was established in John Swearingens's honor at his alma mater, the University of South Carolina, around the time of his second retirement in 1987.
John E. Swearingen Engineering Center
The center includes the triangular 210,000-square-foot main building faced with Alabama limestone and more than 100,000 additional square feet of classroom and office space in nearby remodeled buildings donated by the South Carolina Electric and Gas Company.
The center houses more than 20 laboratories for research in fracture mechanics, computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing, computer graphics, and machine intelligence and robotics. Other labs are designed for research in high-voltage phenomena, fluid dynamics, structural testing, soils and foundations, biomechanics, environmental engineering, and industrial waste treatment.
One wing of the main building constitutes a four-story lab. The second, third, and fourth stories have floors that are half permanent and half expanded metal grating. If an unusually tall piece of equipment is needed, the grating can be removed, allowing the equipment to extend to the roof and permitting researchers access to it from all four levels.
A fiber optic system handles computer interconnections between the center and other buildings on campus, enhancing the center's networking capability. A lovely courtyard provides a setting for various social functions as well as a gathering place for students.
John E. Swearingen (Class of 1938, 1965 Law Honorary), chairman of the Board of Standard Oil Company (Indiana), joined Standard in 1939 as a chemical engineer in research. After holding several positions in Standard's research department, he transferred in 1947 to Amoco Production Company (then Stanolind Oil and Gas Company). He returned to Standard in 1951 and was elected chairman of the board in 1965 after serving as president, CEO, and a director.
He is also a former chairman of the National Petroleum Council; a director of the Chase Manhattan Corporation, the Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A., the Lockheed Corporation, the American Petroleum Institute, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital; and a trustee of Carnegie-Mellon University.
A native of Columbia, he has served as a member and chairman of the President's National Advisory Council at Carolina.
John Swearingon's swan song in the public eye was at a book signing, fittingly, atop the Standard Oil Building he built in Chicago.
When John Swearingen passed away he rated a byline obituary. Major newspapers write obituaries for prominent people long before they die so as to be ready to publish comprehensive, well-researched remembrances immediately upon the subject’s death.  A giveaway that an obituary was long on the shelf is when the byline includes a name of someone who no longer works for the paper,. Such it was with John Swearingen’s obituary published in the Chicago Tribune. 
John E. Swearingen: 1918 - 2007
Businessman was star in oil, banking 
CEO turned around Standard Oil (Indiana) and Continental Illinois National Bank and made dislike of government intervention plain 
September 17, 2007|By Josh Noel and Sheila Tefft, Chicago Tribune. Sheila Tefft is a former Tribune staff reporter 
One of the nation's best-known businessman, John E. Swearingen was a strong-willed managerial wizard with an imperious and often abrasive style.
He was chairman and chief executive of Standard Oil Co. (Indiana) for 23 years, transforming a stodgy backwater oil company into one of the most profitable in the industry.

Less than a year after retiring from the oil company, he agreed to take on the monumental problems of troubled Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Co. of Chicago. An outspoken opponent of government
intervention in business, Mr. Swearingen was part of the rescue team for the first major U.S. money center bank to be nationalized.
"No one should expect instant results," he said when the Continental bailout was announced. "We have a long and difficult road ahead of us with many possible twists and turns."
Mr. Swearingen, 89, died Friday, Sept. 14, of pneumonia at Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he was visiting relatives, family said.
A native of South Carolina, Mr. Swearingen was the eldest of three children. He entered the University of South Carolina when he was only 16 and received a master's degree in chemical engineering from Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh by age 20.
The engineering school at the University of South Carolina years later was named for him.
His father taught him a love of education and a dislike for politics. "I'm probably the only chemical engineer in the country with six years of Latin," he once said.

Mr. Swearingen landed a job at Indiana Standard's research laboratory in Whiting. His ascension at the company was rapid.
He worked at Amoco Production Co., Indiana Standard's exploration and production arm, and held several top production posts with the parent company. He was named president of the oil company in 1958, chief executive officer in 1960 and chairman five years later.
During his tenure as head of Indiana Standard, Mr. Swearingen's name became synonymous with the company's. Though observers said he appeared domineering and arrogant in public, inside the company he delegated authority and invited debate in decision-making.
When he took over, Indiana Standard was a mediocre oil company that was short on reserves. "Let's face it," Mr. Swearingen said in an interview in 1961, "in many respects this is a second-rate company."
He encouraged an aggressive research and development program that won Indiana Standard a reputation as one of the industry's premier explorers 
Mr. Swearingen was on the firing line during the energy crisis of the 1970s, frequently speaking out as head of the Washington-based American Petroleum Institute, the industry's largest trade group.

An active Republican and friend of President Gerald Ford, he made no secret about his dislike for federal regulators and rules. He often blasted the "naive Department of Energy" and "hysterical oil critics."
On his 65th birthday in 1983, Mr. Swearingen stepped down as head of the oil company. An expert fly fisherman, he vowed to mind his own business and spend a lot of time fishing. He and his wife, Bonnie, settled into the social scenes in Chicago and Palm Springs, Calif., where they had homes.
Mr. Swearingen said he would be less visible in politics and business, though "that won't keep me from having opinions if anyone is interested."
But 10 months later, Mr. Swearingen's business acumen was again in demand. After Continentel's near-collapse, federal officials persuaded him to come out of retirement to help turn it around.
As chairman and chief executive of Continental Illinois Corp., the parent company, Mr. Swearingen was teamed with another strong personality, William Ogden, retired vice chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank. Ogden was named chairman and chief executive of Continental bank.
Though Mr. Swearingen was not new to the banking business, he was taking on a job that many in the industry had shunned. He had served on several bank boards and was serving on the Chase Manhattan board at the time of his Continental appointment.
Continental's problems surfaced with the 1982 collapse of Penn Square Bank, an obscure Oklahoma City institution. The Chicago bank had purchased more than $1 billion worth of participations in Penn Square-originated energy loans.
The bank's difficulties escalated, culminating in the run on the bank by panicky investors in May 1984. After a federal bailout failed to take hold and other major banks rejected a Continental merger, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. unveiled a massive rescue plan.
It called for the federal regulatory agency to buy $4.5 billion worth of bad loans from Continental at a discounted rate of $3.5 billion and to pump in another $1 billion in capital. In exchange, the FDIC got an 80 percent stake in the bank.
When he assumed the Continental post, Mr. Swearingen vehemently objected to suggestions that the bank had been nationalized at taxpayer's expense.
"This is not tax money," he said.
"There is no injection of public funds."
Mr. Swearingen's private life was as prominent as his public profile. The vivacious and flamboyant Bonnie made the couple a colorful name in international social circles. She once likened Mr. Swearingen to Napoleon.
"Napoleon isn't really dead," she said during one interview. "He's alive and well and disguised as my husband."
After retiring for a second time, he wrote an autobiography, "Think Ahead," read, golfed and often worked several crossword puzzles a day -- in marker.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Swearingen is survived by two daughters, Marcia Pfleeger and Linda Arnold; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Services will be held Saturday in Columbia, S.C.
John Swearingen's passing was noted in the New York Times as well.

John Swearingen, Oil Executive, Is Dead at 89

Published: September 18, 2007
John E. Swearingen, the most powerful oil executive of his generation and a highly visible defender of the industry in the energy crisis of the 1970s, died on Friday in Birmingham, Ala. He was 89 and lived in Chicago.
John Sweringen, 1984
His death was confirmed by John Bryan, a close friend and former chief executive of Sara Lee, who said Mr. Swearingen had Alzheimer’s disease.
For two decades, Mr. Swearingen presided over Standard Oil of Indiana, the Midwest energy conglomerate, one of the companies founded after the federal government broke up the Rockefeller oil trust.
When he took over in 1960, at the unusually young age of 41, it was a lumbering regional energy company with a big problem: low oil and gas reserves.
“In many respects,” Mr. Swearingen said in an interview at the time, “this is a second-rate company.”
Soon enough, though, it was the envy of the industry. Mr. Swearingen pushed the company to expand its fuel exploration aggressively, leasing offshore drilling rights in the United States, Africa and the Middle East.
To cut costs, he installed labor-saving technology in refineries, merged 26 regional offices into 8 and reduced the number of employees by thousands. He also pursued new ventures through subsidiaries like roadside restaurants and car insurance.
Sales, profits and dividends for investors soared, turning Mr. Swearingen into an oil industry legend. By 1980, the total value of his company’s stock was exceeded by that of only five other corporations — ExxonI.B.M.General MotorsGeneral Electric and Eastman Kodak.
“He took this ragtag group of oil companies and built them into a major American oil company,” Mr. Bryan said.Standard Oil became widely known as Amoco. It merged at the end of 1998 with British Petroleum and the successor company, BP Amoco, acquired ARCO in 2000. 
John Eldred Swearingen was born on Sept. 7, 1918, in Columbia, S.C., where his father was the state’s superintendent of schools. He entered the University of South Carolina at 16, graduating in 1938, and earned a master’s degree at the Carnegie Institute of Technology the next year. 
In 1969, he married Bonnie Bolding, a stockbroker and a former beauty queen. They were prominent in Chicago social circles.
Mr. Swearingen’s salary of more than half a million dollars made him one of the highest-paid executives in the country.
In an interview with The New York Times in 1980, Mrs. Swearingen said, half-jokingly, that she loved “the smell of oil, which should be bottled like perfume.”
Mr. Swearingen is survived by his wife; two daughters from a previous marriage, Marcia Pfleeger and Linda Arnold; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Despite his prominence as an executive, he did not become a household name until fuel shortages gripped the nation in the 1970s. By then, he led the American Petroleum Institute, which vigorously opposed the imposition of federal regulations on gasoline production and costs. 
When President Jimmy Carter pushed for energy legislation, including a windfall profits tax on oil companies, Mr. Swearingen appeared in television programs and at news conferences to rebut criticism of oil companies as profiteers. He derided the president’s plans, telling reporters that “I think we have a bunch of amateurs running the government.”
He retired from Standard Oil in 1983. But less than a year later, he was recruited, along with the banker William Ogden, to save the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company from insolvency. The plan the two put in place turned the bank around within a year, cutting costs, refocusing its operations on its Midwest customers and recruiting experienced directors.
As a boss, Mr. Swearingen “was not warm and fuzzy,” said Mr. Bryan, who served with him on the board of Standard Oil and recruited him to serve as a Sara Lee director.“He was decisive, and precise,” Mr. Bryan said. “No one every made a presentation in his boardroom without a script.
The University of South Carolina published a lengthy tribute upon John Swearingen's death.

And Bonnie is still going strong.,AAAAQBxUKuk~,O7BxoSOXb6ViAGuVeuCwCewyXEalsiBZ

Bonnie Bolding Swearingen (left) with her two surviving sisters.


Chicago Tribune 1973 News Magazine article on Bonnie Swearingen.

Palm Beach Daily News, June 3, 1979

San Antonio Express, March 30, 1975

There came a later time when Bonnie lamented being outbid for a bed at the Harriman auction.

Rome News Tribune, May 22, 1997

It is reassuring to know there was a price too high for Bonnie to pay. 

Bonnie Swearingen, with former Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, 1985.

Common Carolina Society, Fall, 2004

Common Carolina Society, Fall, 2004

Milwaukee Journal, November 26, 1973

Veteran Banker Says Place Priority on Long-Term Plans

Randall Turk • Published: March 8, 1985
Both business and government must put more emphasis on long-term planning to assure a successful U.S. economy, a veteran oilman and banker believes.
John E. Swearingen, chairman and chief executive officer of Continental Illinois Corp., addressed business students at the University of Tulsa Thursday, telling them that their futures are being shaped now by the government's priorities.
In other comments at a press confrence, Swearingen emphasized his preference for government relaxation of controls on banking and oil.
The former chief executive of Standard Oil Co. of Indiana also said the recent rash of oil company takeovers is of little consequence to the economy.
"The oil industry is still among the least concentrated of our major industries, including steel, automobiles and others," he said, adding that "high-tech" industry won't necessarily provide the economic salvation the state needs.
Swearingen said he believes traditional "smoke stack" industry is the basis for Oklahoma's success. The state needs to maintain that value in its economic development plans, he believes.
Swearingen said until recently, the country's economic history has favored consumers rather than producers, resulting in the current deficits and "the hidden tax of inflation."
"For too many years, the preponderence of congressional effort has centered on how to regulate and direct our economy to every conceivable end," Swearingen said.
"Urged on by pressure groups, our elected representatives in Washington came up with all kinds of chores for the eonomy to perform, and wrote them into law with little thought to their effect on the economy itself," he said.
"What thought there was about how to pay for all of this generally took the form of trying to find novel tax sources that would not be too visible or upset anyone too much," he said.
Along the way, Swearingen said, the country developed a large cadre of people who are dependent on government for all or part of their support.
"One third of our families now look to Washington for some form of government check," he said. "Our government cannot continually spend more than it takes in and live forever beyond its means on promises to pay."
Swearingen said many conflicts exist between the government's short and long-term considerations. A current example is the controversy over the federal government's huge budget deficit and what to do about it, he said.

Randall Turk • Published: March 8, 1985
The two biggest items in federal spending are national defense and direct benefit payments to individuals, which together take about 70 cents of every budget dollar, he said. And about half of the remaining 30 cents goes for interest on the country's trillion dollar national debt.
Swearingen emphasized, however, he believes defense expenditures are long-term in nature "at least in peace time."
"We have deferred maintenance in our military establishment to an apalling extent," he said. "This is another unfortunate legacy of the Vietnam war."
Social security, medicare and similar payments are not insurance programs, he said.
"These programs are all part of a transfer payment system where earners are taxed for the benfeit of non-earners, and where sharply rising social security taxes are already on the books," he said.
"Young people will pay heavily for this over their entire working lives if we don't bring long-term considerations to bear on the short-term politics of catering to today's beneficiaries."
Swearingen said many facets of the nation's economy also are seeking to strike a balance between long and short-term considerations. He said industries such as power, transportation and foreign trade are just some of the areas involved.
"We cannot allow short-term expediency to override sensible long-term policy," he said. "But by the same token we cannot afford to set our eyes on the stars and fall in the ditch."
Swearingen believes problems in both the oil and banking industries are in large part problems that failed government policies have created.
"In the 45 years that I have known it, the oil business has almost always been a boom or bust, but rarely has it been so buffeted between these extremes as it has been over the past dozen years," he said.
Swearingen, who last year took over the helm of Chicago's troubled Continental Illinois Bank, said bankers must "pull in their horns and get back to sound loan principles."
A banker has to be right on his loans 95 percent of the time, he said. BIOG: NAME:
Archive ID: 222504

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