Born on March 17, 1943, in Philadelphia, to Gustina and Leroy Huzzy, H. Patrick Swygert spent his youth and much of his adult life in his hometown. After high school, Swygert enrolled at Howard University, where he earned his B.A. degree in history in 1965. Swygert remained at Howard for law school, earning his J.D. degree with honors in 1968. Swygert served as an administrative assistant to Representative Charles Rangel before returning to his hometown. In 1972, Swygert received an assistant professorship at Temple University Law School, and later served as acting dean. Swygert then worked as counsel to the U.S. Civil Service Commission for two years prior to returning to Temple University, where he served as special counsel to the university president. Swygert then was hired on as a member of the faculty at Temple University's School of Law. During his career as a professor, Swygert worked abroad several times as a visiting lecturer; he taught law in Israel, Ghana, Egypt, Greece, and Italy, and also collaborated with the Hungarian Ministry of Higher Education.
In 1990, Swygert became president of the State University of New York at Albany and in 1995, Swygert returned to his alma mater, Howard University, to become its president.
Swygert was named Washingtonian of the Year by the Washingtonian for his leadership of the Howard University-Fannie Mae LeDroit Park Community Revitalization Project; an initiative that created forty new homes for the university's use. Swygert was also an adept fundraiser for Howard University during his tenure.
In addition to his academic duties, Swygert served as a director of Fannie Mae and the United Technologies Corporation; he also served on the boards of several agencies concerned with community development and minority higher education. President Bill Clinton appointed Swygert as chairman of one of six new branches of Business-LINC (Learning, Information, Networking and Collaboration). Swygert and his wife raised two children.