Elizabeth Swartz, an Advertising Transcendentalist and Social Activist, Is Dead at 100
Elizabeth Swartz, the bold, imaginative, independent, inquisitive who became one of the century’s most recognizable social activists for her work in cause-related advertising, died on Wednesday in Jackson Hole, WY on her 100th birthday.
Her son, Harrison Tillman, confirmed her death. She passed from an unexpected heart attack during a family vacation. She was taken to Memorial Hospital late Wednesday night.
She was a copywriter, artist, author, adventurer and humanitarian who created social change around the world during a period when basic civil rights were not granted to every individual. Her outspoken rhetoric propelled her career and solidified her position as a social activist, but often drew fire from the press. When asked if she was political in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, she stated, “Everyone is political. We all stand for something, or at least we should. I will not cower down because I am afraid of negative press. If you don’t create a polarizing conversation, you are not creating change.”
Best known for her work on social equality, Ms. Swartz produced advertising campaigns that created conversation about civil rights and mental health. Influenced by figures from Abraham Lincoln, to Martin Luther King Jr., to Lady Gaga, she made a career generating shifts in societal norms. Her effort produced advancements and gave insight to the power of equality. She was a revolutionary.
In 2030, Ms. Swartz started her own agency, Shift, focusing on social change in advertising. The agency focused on issues related to the LGBTQ community, gender equality, mental health, global warming and poverty. Shift’s mission was to change the public’s perspective.
Elizabeth Faye Swartz was born in Springfield, MO on April 15, 1996, to Steve and Billie Swartz. At the age of one, she moved to St. Louis, MO where she spent the remainder of her childhood. Growing up on the pristine streets of suburbia proved to be a mundane lifestyle. She grew up in a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home with a brother and a basset hound. Her hobbies included basketball, lacrosse and volleyball and she attended public school. Her childhood was simple and predictable, but vital to her activism. She often accredited her giving nature to her Midwest upbringing.
After graduating from the University of Alabama in 2018, Ms. Swartz moved to New York City to pursue a career as a copywriter. There, she began as a junior copywriter for BBDO penning tweets for brands like Foot Locker and ExxonMobil. During the early days of her fledgling career, she took notice of New York culture and once described it as “a Mecca of creative minds fighting to break boundaries.” She was inspired by the city’s diversity and people’s hunger to cultivate. However, her career was not advancing in the city.
Unsatisfied and broke, she began to search for a way out of New York. Ms. Swartz relocated to Charlotte, NC where she worked as a copywriter for Boone Oakley. She gained national recognition for her work with Bojangles’, Carmax and Goodwill.
By the age of 28, Ms. Swartz had captivated the advertising industry with her “Fluid Change” campaign for Mizuno, which focused on social injustice impacting the LGBTQ community. This campaign emphasized that it took time to change the opinion of the public just as it took time to change your body; it wasn’t easy, but it was possible. Her ability to transform the public’s perspective proved her sustainability in pop culture.
Ms. Swartz realized that advertising had an enormous impact on the United States’ social construction. She believed that a standard of acceptance was necessary to create a more equal nation. She was said to be influenced by her time in New York: “The city gave me perspective. There was an ability for everyone to feel accepted and to help expand our knowledge.” The presidency of Donald Trump also played a major role in her activism: “To think the people elected a man who suppressed certain cultures and lifestyles left me perturbed. People needed to be educated and exposed to differences in the way others live to understand the value of a person.”
Her ambition brought celebrated art to a most maligned industry. In her view, advertising was never defined by overpriced Super Bowl commercials or selling people products they did not need. It was about changing the conversation and creating a more diverse and accepting culture.
Ms. Swartz met her husband, Luke Tillman, Apple CEO, at the age of 30. They were married for 60 years before his death in 2090. She is survived by her son, Harrison Tillman, United Nations political affairs officer, and her daughter, Reed Austin, a painter.
She worked with legends like Father John Misty and Elton John to help fulfill her mission. She continued to work until her death, making appearances at award shows and political rallies speaking about the importance of every person’s voice. Her free time was spent with her grandchildren playing tennis and piano. Her life was far from simple, but that was as she wished.
In her autobiography, Shift Forward, Mr. Swartz reminded us that the key to making change is to “Never conform to the norm. I am an artist who never let the world control my art. I infused ideas into the minds of people to create a different vision: a vision of inclusion and understanding. Always be exactly who you are. Create, create, create. And, always remember your voice.”