Despite a heartbreaking loss in the Stanley Cup finals, there’s still a positive story coming out of the Bruins locker room thanks to a local craftsman.
For more professional hockey players who met former Bruins great Cam Neely “around the glass,” it usually meant being on the receiving end of a body-crushing check. But for Nantucket resident Stephen Swift, his relationship with Neely and a pane of glass has been far less painful. For the last sixteen years, Swift has been Neely’s “glass guy,” commissioned to do ornate glass carvings for the Boston Bruins as well as for Neely’ nonprofit, The Neely Foundation for Cancer Care.
A lifelong Bruins fan, Swift guides us around the Bruins locker room where names like Thorton, Sequin, Lucic and Chara are printed on placards below a massive piece of glass he hand carved. This is the inner sanctum of Boston’s beloved team and Swift proudly points out his various glass pieces hung in the Bruins’ den. “That’s called the third logo,” he says, nodding to a bear carved into the glass. “Cam had me do it last year.”
Beyond his passion for the Bruins, it’s the Neely Foundation that really gets Swift charged up. He takes us to where it all started sixteen years ago, a wing of the Tufts Medical Center called the Neely House. In the vestibule, three slabs of glass stand upright, each hand-etched by Swift. Some years ago, Cam Neely lost his mother and father to cancer, and the hockey player witness firsthand the strain borne by patients and their families during treatment. Particularly, he recognized that many patients were commuting from afar and need a place to stay. The result was the Neely House, a bed and breakfast style living quarters located within Tufts Medical Center.
What began as eight apartments in 1997 is today eighteen apartments with two kitchens and two living rooms. In addition to free lodgings, the Neely House offers a support system, a community of patients and families fighting the same battle. As one patient put it, “The Neely House is critical to my treatment.” Over the last sixteen years, the Neely House has grown into a foundation, raising millions of dollars for cancer treatment and research and now boasting four wings in Tufts Medical Center. And Steve Swift has been there every step of the way.
“My dad passed away from cancer just about the time Cam started his foundation,” Swift says. “Just being here, I have become friendly with many families. Once you get connected to this community, you are always connected.” Of all the glass Swift has carved for each new wing, a portrait of Neely’s father is perhaps most dear to him. Swift had never undertaken a portrait before, and with just days before the wing opened, he was still figuring out how to transfer a six-by-eight photo onto a huge slab of glass, which now greets those entering the Michael Neely Neuroscience Center.
The Neely Foundation raised $1.5 million dollars to open yet another wing at Tufts, The Marlene Neely Endoscopy Suite. The wing is in memory of Neely’s mother who passed away from colon cancer, and pictures of her have already been selected for Swift to transfer onto glass. And he is happy to be of service, having found his own unique way to contribute to the fight against cancer.
This article first appeared in the August 2013 issue of N Magazine.