Brenda Kay Swygert, a staffer for Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) since he first came to Congress more than three and a half decades ago, died May 5 at Johns Hopkins Medical Hospital in Baltimore of a respiratory condition at age 57. In an interview last week, Rangel fondly remembered his longtime assistant as a talented singer who had a magnetic personality and unbeatable work ethic.
“What always amazed me was the number of strangers that would come into the office to see her,” Rangel said. “She had a constituency of people who just would meet her and wanted to stop by and see her as well as their Member of Congress. [IMGCAP(1)]
“She worked so late and worked so long, and we used to tease each other as to who is going to outdo whom in staying here because she was just that dedicated,” Rangel said.
Born in New York City in 1950, Swygert came to work for Rangel in 1971 and served as his executive assistant right up to the very end. Since she was responsible for keeping Rangel’s schedule, she often would travel with the Ways and Means chairman when he was a part of Congressional delegations.
On a trip to Morocco, Rangel recalled how Swygert often was asked by other Members to display her singing talents.
The late Speaker “Tip O’Neill [D-Mass.] knew her, and he would call for his sweet Brenda to sing an Irish song in a minute,” Rangel said. “And she would accommodate. … She wasn’t someone that worked with Rangel, she was always a part of CODEL and everyone knew her.”
Swygert met her husband, Kenneth Swygert, who is deceased, through her work in Rangel’s office. She is survived by her mother, a brother and a sister in addition to all the friends she met on and off Capitol Hill.
“All over the Capitol, people are saying how sorry they are that we lost Brenda,” Rangel said.
Reflecting on what made Swygert so unique, Rangel said in the end it was her simple kindness and singing spirit.
“[You] will never see a frown on her face,” he said, “or hear an unpleasant thing from her. She talked to people as though she was singing.”