Barbara Swain struck up a friendship with then-JPL scientist Dennis Le Croissette and his wife, Jill, shortly after they became Pasadena neighbors in 1977. Their rapport would abide for the rest of the couple’s lives.

The Le Croissettes provided for Swain from their estate, and she honored them with a contribution to Caltech, an institution close to her heart.

“I love this place,” she says. “I think it’s the star on the Crown City’s crown. It really makes me feel good to be part of it.”

To support an institution she has long admired while bolstering her financial security, Swain created a charitable gift annuity, which offers fixed payments for life.

“It was a win-win situation,” she says. She appreciates the attractive income stream guaranteed by the annuity, and, she adds, “The gift honors the people who really are the source of it.” (For more about charitable gift annuities, see the sidebar on page 2.)


The bond between Swain and the Le Croissettes took shape intuitively.

“I just got them,” she says. “It was never a lot of time spent. It was just an affinity, a comfort level. We knew the door was always open.”

“I love this place,” she says. “I think it’s the star on the Crown City’s crown. It really makes me feel good to be part of it.”

Swain appreciated the Le Croissettes’ “proper” demeanor and dry humor, and she smiles recalling their fondness for the culture of the U.K., where Dennis grew up. He would host authentic English teas on special occasions, with Jill preparing elaborate spreads.

The friends stayed in touch after the Le Croissettes retired to Carlsbad, California, in 1985. And after Dennis died in 2006, Swain was there to comfort Jill. The friendship continued through Jill’s death in 2015.


The Le Croissettes’ love story began with a 1958 faculty party at the University of Kansas, where Jill McLean, an academic librarian from Australia, met an intriguing new professor.

“I think she thought, ‘This is it,’” Swain says.

When Dennis moved on to Drexel University in Philadelphia the following year, Jill found the closest job she could—at Brown University in Rhode Island. After about a year of commuting 300 miles to visit, they married in 1960, and Jill went on to earn a master’s degree at Drexel.

“My view is that they were destined for each other,” Swain says.


Making a gift to advance science with her provision from the Le Croissettes’ estate strikes Swain as a fitting tribute to Dennis. A physicist, he made his mark in both space exploration and biomedical imaging.

When he joined JPL (which Caltech manages for NASA) in 1963, he took on the demanding task of building instrumentation for NASA’s Surveyor program. He helped oversee the first broadcast from a television camera on the moon and later managed instruments for the Mariner and Voyager missions.

He went on to manage biomedical engineering at JPL and also took on positions as a clinical professor of radiology at USC and adviser to the National Institutes of Health.


Swain has a multifaceted connection to Caltech all her own. Since the late 1950s, she has found friends among the Institute’s scientists and engineers. And one of her nephews—the late Jim Hunt (PhD ’80)—built a career in academia after studying environmental engineering at Caltech.

Her work life also introduced her to a notable alumnus—Gordon Weir (BS ’40, MS ’41), local NBC meteorologist. In 1963, Swain became home-economics director for the dairy company Knudsen, which sponsored Weir’s weather report. As he became part of Swain’s social circle, she got a special view of Caltech’s impact.

“The first time Gordon brought me to dinner at the Athenaeum, he pointed out three Nobel winners in the room,” she says. “That’s pretty heady!”


Swain’s contribution to Caltech not only reflects Dennis Le Croissette’s scientific legacy, but also focuses on a topic with special resonance for her. Her charitable gift annuity will support research into bacteria that live in the human digestive tract—a subject she learned about when a friend brought her to a Caltech Associates event. “I feel connected to this research,” Swain says. “I see its importance to the world. After all, food is my life!”

Always an avid traveler, Swain studied cooking in France as a private student of Simone Beck, a colleague of Julia Child’s, while PBS was airing the first season of Child’s show The French Chef. Swain built on her career in home economics to publish the 1978 cookbook Cookery for One or Two. To this day, she is a passionate advocate for clean and natural food.

Happy to support science that sparks her interest while also securing an income stream, she remains grateful to the Le Croissettes.

“It’s the gift that just keeps giving to me,” Swain says.