Archived Opinion

Monteith leaves a lasting legacy in Swain

Monteith leaves a lasting legacy in Swain

It was July or August of 1999, best I remember, and the Swain County Commissioners at that time were meeting in a cramped boardroom in the Administration Building. I’m not sure if anyone from a newspaper other than The Smoky Mountain Times covered these meetings, but we had published the first issue of our upstart newspaper in June of that year. As its only reporter at that time, I was finally getting around to one of Swain’s meetings.

I was a little out of sorts as I wandered in unannounced. I found an empty chair against the wall that was so close you could have touched the commissioners. They all greeted me as I told them who I was and what I was there for.

My only strong memory from that first meeting was the friendly, warm reception I got from Commissioner David Monteith, who had been newly elected in 1998. He got up and walked over, shook my hand, and then throughout the meeting kept asking me if I needed any more information on the matters being discussed. At meeting’s end, County Administrator Linda Cable and Monteith stayed after, produced extra copies of some of the materials, and made sure I had everything needed to do my reporting. We were the last ones there, literally, and as we walked out David and Linda showed me where I could put one of our newspaper racks in the lobby of the administration building lobby. After that, they turned out the lights and we all left the building together.

Last week, David Monteith — still a commissioner — left the building for good with his passing. Swain County lost a man who had dedicated the last 20 years of his life to making his home county a better place.

I can’t count the times David helped reporters at this newspaper gain a better understanding of an issue, how many times over the years he called to tell me, Don Hendershot, Becky Johnson or some fledgling reporter to discuss an issue he thought we needed to cover.

His civility, sincerity and warmth are among the traits marked David’s years as a commissioner. He and this newspaper disagreed on several issues, including the North Shore Road, for example, but never once did we have cross words. He was one of those people that, as an adversary, you listened to him because it allowed you to gain a better understanding of the issue at hand. There were no histrionics, just a passionate elected leader doing what he thought was best for Swain County residents.

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The list of projects, organizations and issues that David helped is too long to list here. But he was instrumental in the Fontana Lake Users Association and the 288 boat dock and park, supported veterans and public safety employees and doggedly worked to make the Swain County Heritage Museum happen. Though he often clashed with Great Smoky Mountains National Park bureaucrats, he was tireless in his support of the North Carolina side of the Smokies and citizens’ rights to visit and provide upkeep to cemeteries. He supported tourism and efforts to bring world-class whitewater events to the Nantahala Gorge, and of course was probably the number one supporter of the Road to Nowhere.

I asked our writer Becky Johnson about David, as she covered Swain County for years, and among her fondest memories is interviewing David and him seeking answers from his wife Ellen: 

“He and his wife Ellen were inseparable, They were two peas in a pod. Ellen and David were best friends. David relied on Ellen’s watertight memory of Swain people and events a lot. When talking to David on the phone, he would always be pausing to say, ‘Ellen, what’s that Bradley boy’s name again?’ or ‘Ellen, where does that Douthit girl live again? When did her husband pass away again?’ And Ellen would be heard in the background recounting the information like a walking-talking genealogy book.”

“He’s good people,” my mom would sometimes say, a pithy phrase reserved only for those who truly were. That’s a great description of David Monteith. He is gone, but his legacy to Swain County residents will live on for many, many years. 

(Reach Scott McLeod at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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