More than 1,800 people crowded into Nassau Presbyterian Church last Saturday to pay their respects at a memorial service for Princeton investment banker William Sword, Jr., who died tragically during Hurricane Sandy. Spilling out of the sanctuary, mourners moved into three additional rooms and the church’s hallways to hear the Reverend David Davis’s eulogy urging them to take inspiration from the way Mr. Sword lived his life.
“I have never seen an outpouring of love and grief and celebration of that magnitude,” Mr. Davis said on Monday. “Given the weather challenges, it’s just remarkable that so many people were there. But anybody who knew Bill knew that he lived every day with gratitude, and tended to his friendships and relationships in a way that allowed all of them to thrive.”
Mr. Sword, 61, died on Monday, October 29 after being struck by a falling tree outside his home during the storm (see accompanying obituary, page 41). According to Princeton Township Police, Mr. Sword was trapped beneath the tree, which fell on him as he cleared debris from his driveway.
Making the tragedy all the more uncanny is the fact that Mr. Sword survived a brutal knife attack in 2003. An emotionally disturbed student from the University of Maryland, Jelani Manigault, crashed his car near the Sword family’s house on the Great Road, and asked to enter the home. Mr. Sword let him in, and an apparently distraught Mr. Manigault ran into the kitchen, grabbed a 12-inch knife, and stabbed Mr. Sword numerous times.
“It is not a cliche in this case to say that in the aftermath of that situation, Bill made the decision to live life to the fullest,” said Mr. Davis. “And he did that for 10 years.”
Mr. Sword graduated from The Lawrenceville School in 1969 and Princeton University in 1976. Several of his family members have attended Lawrenceville, where Mr. Sword was an honor student and a lacrosse player, according to Alumni Relations Director John Gore. “We heard about it Tuesday from alumni who called to let us know,” he said. “Several of his classmates attended his memorial service. This is a lovely family, and we feel very badly for them. It’s very tragic.”
Among Mr. Sword’s Lawrenceville friends was Princeton resident Mark Larsen, who was a freshman when Mr. Sword was a senior. “He was my study hall monitor, and we ended up being roommates at Princeton because Bill took a couple years off to work in Washington,” Mr. Larsen said. “We became close friends. We were in each other’s weddings. Our families were close.”
Mr. Larsen was among those who attended a reception at the Bedens Brook Club following Mr. Sword’s funeral service. “We had a chance to speak about Bill, and what I said about him was that this man was a giver, not a taker,” Mr. Larsen recalled. “The most wonderful thing about Bill Sword is that he realized that in life, every day counted — especially after he was stabbed nearly to death. He lived every day fully. The way he engaged the community, his friends, and his family, was such a great example to everyone. He touched so many lives in a quiet, humble way.”
The loss of Mr. Sword is felt by the charitable organizations in which he volunteered his time, as well as his personal relationships. “Bill was an unusually caring and giving person,” said Republican mayoral candidate Dick Woodbridge, on Monday. “We have known the family for years, and our oldest daughter used to babysit for his children. What I especially liked about Bill was that he was ‘old school’ in that he gave quietly and generously to the community. He also possessed a keen sense of humor balanced with genuine intelligence and humility. The fact that the church was packed to overflowing in the aftermath of the worst New Jersey storm in recent history says all you need to know.”
A board member of Centurion Ministries, Mr. Sword worked frequently with Jim McCloskey, its founder and executive director. “Bill and I were good friends. We both belonged to Nassau Presbyterian Church, and I asked him to join the Centurion Board. He asked some very good questions, as he usually does, and I felt honored and privileged that he would serve us,” Mr. McCloskey said. “After the memorial service the other day, a number of people came up and told me how much of a real advocate he was for Centurion. I didn’t know he was doing that around town. We all lost a very, very good friend. It’s just incomprehensible and horrendous. Those of us who knew him well knew he was a special human being who cared for people, especially the disadvantaged and forgotten.”
Mr. Sword also served on the board of the Princeton Area Community Foundation. “We knew him to be the same lovely person that everyone else in this community thought of him as being,” said Nancy Kieling, PACF president. “He had a generous spirit. We have a long relationship with the Sword family, because Bill’s father was on our founding board. He’s been a friend of ours for a long time, so we are deeply saddened.”
Lee Gladden shared office space with Mr. Sword for the past decade. “We’ve done a lot of business projects together. We saw each other every day in the office, or in Dillon gym, or golfing at Bedens Brook, or on the Centurion Board,” he said. “I feel so privileged and grateful that I not only got to know Bill so well, but got to spend so much time with him. I learned a lot, and really enjoyed every minute of it. It’s a huge loss not to have Bill in our lives anymore. He was such a wonderful person, and an example of how to live a good life. We should all learn from that. He was an inspiration to us all.”