Humphrey School Launches New Climate Policy Initiative in Honor of Supporter Tom Swain

Swain celebrates 100th birthday by encouraging fellow citizens to take action on climate change
July 14, 2021
Tom Swain at a podium speaking to a crowd for his 100th birthday party
Longtime University of Minnesota supporter Tom Swain announces his new climate policy initiative, led by the Humphrey School, at his 100th birthday party on July 7. Donors have contributed more than $330,000 so far to the fund. Photo: Bruce Silcox

Tom Swain, a longtime leader in government, business, and the University of Minnesota,  marked his 100th birthday on July 4 by taking on a new high-profile initiative to address one of society’s greatest challenges.

Known throughout the state for his citizen activism, Swain celebrated this monumental birthday milestone by announcing the establishment of “Advancing Climate Solutions. Now: The Swain Climate Policy Series” at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, to encourage fellow citizens to take action on climate change. 

“This is the biggest, most critical issue that humankind faces today,” said Swain, a University of Minnesota alumnus (BSB ’42) and a longtime supporter of the Humphrey School, at a recent event to formally launch the initiative. “The planet is getting hotter and hotter all the time, and soon will become uninhabitable if we don’t find some answers to greenhouse gas emissions.” 

Some 150 family, friends, and University officials gathered on July 7 to celebrate Swain’s birthday and the establishment of the climate policy fund that bears his name. Donors have already contributed more than $330,000 so far. The fund will be used to support a new lecture series featuring world-renowned climate experts and champions. 

Other elements of the initiative include: 

  • Interaction among climate experts, students, researchers, community partners, and the public
  • Policy-focused student internships and research initiatives
  • Development and analysis of policy strategies to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and deploy carbon-neutral energy resources 
  • A focus on climate justice, to reduce the disparate impacts of climate change based on geography, income and race 
  • Opportunities for participants to learn how to be more effective climate stewards through both individual and collective action

“We have big aspirations for this new initiative,” Humphrey School Dean Laura Bloomberg told the gathering. “How could you not have big aspirations when you’re doing something to honor a man like Tom Swain, who is so determined to make a difference in the world? It is what we must do. It feels like our imperative.” 

Tom Swain with Goldy Gopher
Swain served as a vice president at the University of Minnesota on two occasions.  Photo: Bruce Silcox

The key to addressing climate change is to get everyone involved in promoting policies that will reduce greenhouse gases and advance climate solutions, said Swain.

“What each of us is doing individually in terms of changing our habits, buying electric cars and so on, is all well and good. But the real answer has to be in the form of national policy changes. It’s got to result in more political action,” he said.  

A member of the Humphrey School Dean’s Advisory Council since 2003, Swain believes the School’s mission to “inspire, educate, and support leadership for the common good” makes it ideally suited for this work.

The Humphrey School will work collaboratively across the University to maximize the impact of the Swain Climate Policy Series. A key partner will be the University’s Institute on the Environment.

The University of Minnesota is well positioned to take up Swain’s climate policy challenge, said President Joan Gabel, who noted the University is already a leader in environmental research and outreach. 

“We are thrilled to support Tom’s efforts to bring this important topic to the community; it will have a lasting impact for climate research, outreach, and education here at the University and beyond,” Gabel said. “May we all be inspired by Tom’s activism, so we can provide future generations a planet in healing, transformed by innovative ways to face this climate crisis.”

Organizers hope to announce the first Swain Climate Policy speaker in the near future. 

See more photos from the event

About Tom Swain

Tom Swain is a longtime government, business, community, and University of Minnesota leader who held a variety of influential positions during his distinguished career. 


  • Chief of staff and economic development commissioner under Governor Elmer Anderson
  • Led health policy reform efforts under Governors Carlson and Pawlenty
  • Executive director of the Minnesota Statehood Centennial Commission
  • Mayor of Lilydale

In the business community:

  • Longtime executive vice president at the St. Paul Companies

At the University:

  • Began his U career as ticket manager for the Gophers in the 1940s
  • Came out of retirement twice to serve as acting vice president of Institutional Relations

At the Humphrey School:

  • Advisory Council member for nearly 20 years
  • Established the Thomas H. Swain Fellowship in Public Leadership to support mid-career master’s degree students. Some 60 students have benefitted to date.  
  • Trusted counsel to several deans
  • Recipient of the 2017 Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Award