Dear Florence, dear Marylise, dear family and friends of Jacques Swaters,
My memory is trying to bridge over 42 years of friendship with Jacques Swaters. It is written in my memory like a novel. Who was Jacques Swaters ? Let me try to explain how well I got to know him.
Jacques was a very kind man, calm, careful and loyal. A friend, willing to help and to listen with every inch of a gentleman with lot of charisma. He enjoyed his friends and he got many. It is difficult to define all the qualities of Jacques in a one-liner.
What brought us together ? Forty-two years ago a close friend of mine suggested me to call “Garage Francorchamps” in order to look for a Ferrari. On calling, I immediately found Monsieur Jacques Swaters on the phone. Impressed as I was I made an appointment in Brussels. That particular sunny Saturday in 1968 changed my life. I became a “Swaterist” and a “Ferrarist” in one day.
After a few months Jacques asked me to become his representative in The Netherlands. I was a young man studying medicine with little time available to spread my wings selling Ferrari automobiles in my country. According to him, I only had to deal with a small group of insiders and I knew already quite a few of them, he said. His authority on Ferrari matters and motorsport was impressive and I yielded for his arguments and accepted my new job.
We became friends. I went to meet him almost every two weeks in the garage in Brussels, by then the “holy grail” for me. He introduced me to everyone and mostly took me out for lunch. Always to another local Italian restaurant where he knew the people and they all knew him. His “savoir vivre” was imminent, his mood always friendly and positive. He enjoyed life and so did I!
Jacques unlocked many doors for me : the Ferrari Works in Maranello, the “Servizio Clienti” in Modena, and the “Ferrari Club Belgio”.
I am also indebted to him for sharing his friendships. Friends like Jean and Armand Blaton, Léon Sven, André Blieck, Jo Cannaerts and Hughes de Fierlant, just to mention a few. He was always open-minded with the capacity to surround himself with loyal people. This team building quality was extremely important in his career as a racing driver and director of “Ecurie Francorchamps”.
After three years, I ended my representation of Ferrari due to my increasing activities of my ‘other’ life, my medical profession. But we always remained friends, frequently travelling to Brussels to meet. I repeatedly insisted on writing his biography and we finally came to a deal. Every second Saturday, Jacques, Jean-Pierre Ori and I would get together and do all the writing. After a few months, we found out that the available material was so immense that we probably had to spend a couple of years sitting together to do the job. We decided to cancel this major effort. I regret this after all.
In these sessions – but also during our trips – many personal anecdotes came to light. For instance I learnt that Jacques survived several serious accidents. Like the cat with the seven lives… Many of you will know how seriously he crashed in his Ferrari 500 Formula II car during the Grand Prix of Bern, in Switzerland in 1953. He spent a long time in hospital. He told me : ‘Paul, I fractured almost all the bones in my life’.
Once driving home from Italy, approaching the Mont-Blanc, he told me in detail of another life threatening accident that happened in the region when he was a young sportsman. With friends he was skiing along the ‘Haute Route’. There was fresh snow and the trail was not easy to recognize.
All of a sudden he crashed into a deep icy and narrow ravine falling down twenty meters or more. It was physically almost impossible to save his life in that narrow cleft and nobody would go down there to lift him out of this icy grave. There was one man in the village however who was prepared to risk his life and to sail down in this dangerous place. He managed to wrap Jacques in blankets on a stretcher and to pull him out. He got seriously hibernated and fractured a great number of bones.
Jacques told me that every year, he was in contact with his rescuer, a friendship for life, Literally ! With this anecdote I want to honor the man who saved Jacques’ life and to whom he was incredibly grateful. It clearly wasn’t his time yet.
In our conversations, he entrusted me many more personal memories and emotions. He had a Dutch and a Belgian passport and he spoke about his youth and the untimely death of his parents. Exciting years followed when he started his Ecurie, buying race cars and racing them on the edge. He regretted that he spent a great deal of his money and realized that he also had to “make money” to survive. This ignited his relationship with Enzo Ferrari and he became the successful Belgian Ferrari Concessionaire.
Turbulent it was at the time, and he told me : ‘I was testing the Ferrari 750 Monza at Spa with young Marylise in the passenger seat without a protecting windscreen. Going down the straight at over 250 km/hr her breath was almost cut off but at least she got the taste of things’. And how about the acquisition and pick up of the Ferrari 500 Formula II car in Maranello ? He told me : ’I decided to drive the car home that night. Maranello – Brussels on public roads but I had neither road registration, mudguards nor lights… When I got at the Italian border driving this Formula racing car, I slowed down and before the upset customs could close the road, I accelerated away in the dark with the exhaust banging in the cold night’.
It was like reading the adventures of Tintin… He was always quite discrete in his revelations but interesting it certainly was. His biography could have been an entertaining and successful novel.
After Jacques retired he embarked on his last great passion : the Galleria Ferrari. A demanding job that he took extremely seriously. We often discussed the future of the Galleria Ferrari. The financial paragraph, the care for this immense collection, the required know-how, and also what should happen when he wasn’t with us anymore. His beloved daughter, his pride, she would do it. No doubt. This is a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of Florence but a prove of his believe in her passion.
With Marylise, he spent more and more time in his home in Spain. He loved to invite his friends over there.
During the last few years, Philip Kantor and I took Jacques for an annual lunch to the Pigeon d’Or in Uccle. We spoke about the past and the present, we savored good wines and exquisite food. His memory still being strong and his voice all the same, soft with his typical low timbre. With luster in his eyes he spent hours and hours sharing so many beloved memories.
This year after luch I took him home and we were sitting in my car across the street. Before he stepped out he said : ‘Paul, I wished we could meet every week and have such a wonderful lunch and conversation together’.
He was worried about his health, about the treatment he was expecting.
He asked my opinion as a doctor and we discussed matters.
I said : ‘Jacques, I want to give you a hand to get out of the car and to assist you to cross the street’. ‘No way’, he replied ’I can do it myself’.
I repeated my offer and wanted to get out of the car. He insisted and ordered me to remain seated. ‘I can do it all by myself’, he said.
I waited and saw him reach the other side of the street in safety and we waved farewell.
This was my last encounter with the old Master. The man with the seven lives. My Hero. Jacques, you rest in peace and we all will keep you warm and alive in our hearts and memory. With love.
Paul F. Schouwenburg
Aerdenhout, The Netherlands