Rep. Jackie Walorski’s heartbroken husband on Thursday fought back tears as he paid tribute to his wife who died in a head-on car crash, recalling how she “took charge of whatever room she walked into.”
Walorski’s husband, Dean Swihart, recounted his courtship with his wife of 27 years in an emotional speech at a vigil at Jimtown High School in Elkhart, Indiana.
“A lot of people know Jackie as Jackie, or Jackie Walorski,” he said, according to a Facebook Live video by the South Bend Tribune. “I know Jackie as Jackie Swihart, my wife…Jackie took charge of whatever room she walked into, and it wasn’t because she was six foot tall.”
Swihart recalled how they first laid eyes on each other in 1994, shortly before he took her to the St. Joseph County fair on what was the pair’s first date.
“She says: ‘I met the man I’m gonna marry,’” Swihart said at the vigil. “She knew that on the first date. I’m slow.”
The pair tied the knot in 1995 and made the unlikely move to Romania in 2000 where they stayed put for four years.
There, they launched Impact International — an organization aimed at helping children which also provides medical supplies.
Once the couple returned to home soil in 2004, Walorski threw her hat in the ring of politics.
“I could not be more proud of the life my wife has lived,” Swihart said. “She lived her faith. She knew she was. She wasn’t going to be talked down she wasn’t going to back down.”
Walorski, 58, was riding in an SUV with her press secretary Emma Thomson, 28, and St. Joseph County Republican Party chairman Zachery Potts, 27, when they crashed head-on with a car driving in the opposite direction, the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office said.
Thomson and Potts also died as a result of the accident, along with the driver of the other car, identified as 56-year-old Edith Schmucker.
All four were wearing their seatbelts, and airbags were deployed in both vehicles, police said.
On Thursday, Swihart was joined by other family members at the vigil, including Indiana Republican politicians, and hundreds of community members who paid poignant tribute to the late congresswoman.
“Jackie was a politician,” Tim Henke, organizer of the vigil, said. “But I guarantee tonight, if I went around to every one of you and let you talk, you would say ‘Jackie was my best friend.’”
“When Jackie looked at you, she looked with eyes of hope,” Henke added.
Toward the end of the emotional vigil, Swihart told the crowd, “Jackie’s in heaven, she’s celebrating, and I’m so happy. I’ll see her again. I’ve got more resolve than ever.”