Remembering David Swift, NREL Scientist

memoriam photo


April 29, 2020, the CSU NREL (Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory) said goodbye to Dr. David Swift, senior research scientist, global ecologist, colleague, mentor, and friend. Herein, we share his obituary, an overview of his time at NREL and CSU, and memories from those who worked with him. Please visit, to share your memories, and view some of Dave’s varied and matchless contributions such as recipes, poetry and photography.


“I believe firmly that quality of life is more important than quantity.” — David M. Swift , ca. 2017.

In his family’s words

Dave Swift. (Swift Family)

David Munson Swift was born in January 1941 in Washington, D. C. and passed away in April, 2020 at the Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, Colorado. He passed peacefully after a two-month battle to recover from quadruple bypass surgery.

Dave’s loved ones are devastated by their loss, but are comforted by the fact that he lived an amazing life. He loved his family, his work and the natural world in equal measure. Dave traveled the world for both his work as a systems ecologist and for the pleasure (and sometimes pain) of experiencing other cultures and landscapes. Places he visited include Kenya (with the people of Turkana), Tanzania, Morocco, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Nepal, South Korea, China, Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, many countries in Europe and Canada. He actually rode his motorcycle to some of these countries!

Dave’s passions included teaching, hiking, bird and flower identification, bicycle riding, classical music, fine art, cooking and baking, carefully crafting his poetry, writing scathing editorials to the Coloradoan and finding money. These are all things that he enjoyed sharing with friends and family—it was an expression of his love. His one great regret in life is that he was unable to retrieve a quarter from the too-busy intersection of Harmony and Timberline, which he spotted whilst on a bike ride. That quarter was his white whale, for sure.

His loved ones will miss him terribly, but his legacy lives on through each of them.

David was a loving and devoted son, brother, uncle, husband, father and grand-father. He is survived by his daughter, Melissa Louise Swift Workman, and his son Ethan David Swift, and their mother, Marolyn Joy Swift, his first wife. He married Liliana Noemi Castro in 1996 and is survived by Lili and his step-son, Nicolas Storellicastro, step-daughter, Luciana Storelli Castro, and mother-in-law, Amalia Santos de Castro. David is also survived by his son-in-law, Jarret Workman, daughter-in-laws, Genevieve Swift and Allison Storellicastro. He is survived by seven grandchildren: Colton Workman, Claire Workman, Cade Workman, Lorelei Swift, Maximo Storellicastro, Desmond Swift, and Santos Storellicastro. David is survived by his brother Paul Swift, and sisters Carolyn Swift and Joanne Rhodes. Lastly, David is survived by extended family and friends, including his beloved NREL family at CSU. He was preceded in death by his father, Harold Munson Swift, and his mother, Elizabeth Stroble Cain Swift.


Dr. David Swift, lifelong learner

After getting his bachelor’s of science in forest botany from New York State College of Forestry in 1963, Dave came to CSU to pursue a master’s in watershed resources. In 1970, he moved into the role of the coordinator of computer programming and data processing for the Grassland Biome Program of the USIBP (U.S. International Biological Program). In addition to that role, he brought his skills and knowledge to a variety of research projects involving Colorado wildlife with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and on projects investigating the ecology of subsistence pastoralism in East Africa through the NSF (National Science Foundation) and USDAID (United States Agency for International Development), and his work and research allowed him to explore the world. He also completed a Ph.D. from the Animal Sciences Department at CSU in 1985; however, he stayed true to his ecology roots in that he did not wish to become an animal scientist, but preferred to remain an ecologist.


Memories from friends in NREL

Those in NREL will miss him just popping into their office to say “hi” or stopping for a chat in the hall, and some of those who had the privilege to work closely with Dave have stories to tell and memories to share. Since hearing of Dave’s passing, Paul Evangelista has found himself recalling countless adventures with him, most from their time together in Ethiopia.


Swift 2
Wildlife Survey, Ethiopia, 2009 (Paul Evangelista, NREL Research Scientist)

“It was evident how much Dave loved Ethiopia – the landscape, culture, history, food, and especially its people. And they welcomed his laughter, respect, friendship and the Obama shirts he wore with pride. Dave helped our research team out on multiple projects and was always quick to volunteer for fieldwork, meetings or teaching. On several occasions, he joined us in the Bale Mountains where we were studying mountain nyala, an antelope found only in the Ethiopian highlands. Fieldwork with Dave was always entertaining to say the least, whether we were pranking our game scouts by slipping Clif bars in the scat surveys or finding a fresh lion kill in one of our sample plots. One of my fondest memories was spending Christmas with him in the Bale Mountains. Our team was well stocked with wine for the evening, and our Ethiopian colleagues gifted us with a wonderful dinner followed by a long evening of traditional dancing,” Evangelista said about their time together.

Likewise, others in the department have shared memories of Dave coming out to field sites, like hiking up to Loch Vale with Jill Baron’s group, even at the age of 77– “Sometimes he would help, but mostly he was in it for the hike and the conversation. That was always good with us,” Baron said.


A field day including soil sampling in 2005 on top of Thatchtop Mountain above Loch Vale. (Jill Baron, USGS/NREL Research Scientist)

Stacy Lynn, a mentee and colleague of Dave’s for 23 years, remembers Dave stopping for lunch breaks somewhere, or anywhere really, and Dave wandering away. “Whenever we traveled together in Kenya or Tanzania over the years, Dave would always find a way to grab his binoculars and take a walk to go birding, check out the beautiful flowers, wander off into a market, or strike up a conversation with someone over a local beer… always curious, asking questions, telling stories and jokes, laughing his Dave laugh (most often at his own stories and jokes) and restlessly exploring. Dave was certainly one of a kind, and so very alive. It is hard to imagine NREL without him.”

Throughout Dave’s time at NREL, he fostered many relationships as a mentor and advisor, colleague and friend, leaving a lasting impression as someone to turn to for advice, a laugh or a fun fact about the history of NREL. He will be remembered for his sense of humor, wisdom, adventurous spirit and warm and welcoming smile and personality. The halls of NREL will feel a little emptier without him. The numerous and positive impacts Dave made—from global ecosystem science to those who had the distinct privilege of knowing him—will continue as his legacy. Dave was truly one of a kind, he loved, and was loved by many. We will miss him.


Story by Natalie Schmer, NREL Ecopress