Thaddeus Seymour, who served as president of Rollins from 1978 to 1990, passed away this weekend at the age of 91. His years as president and then as a professor at Rollins were marked not only by his dedication to academic excellence, but also for the caring and sense of fun he brought to these roles.
Both of these elements were themes of his Inaugural address, when he set a goal for the College’s Centennial year: “To know ourselves and be known by others as the finest small college in the Southeast, standing among the finest small colleges in the country.” At the same time, he made another important point: “I have spoken of hard work, rigor, and excellence. I certainly would not do justice to the occasion if I seemed to suggest that college should not be fun. I believe in the balanced life. I believe in matching hard work with fun. We will miss the point completely if we do not enjoy this place and each other.”
In an oral history interview for the College Archives, Thad noted that “when I came, one of the great bits of fun I had was to reinstitute Fox Day,” which had been discontinued during the “earnest years” of the 1970s. He had been proud to establish a similar holiday, Elmore Day, when he served as president of Wabash College (1969-1978) and was happy to revive this tradition at Rollins.
His first year at Rollins proved to be “a complicated time,” as he put it. One of the events that challenged the new president was a production at the Annie Russell Theatre: Equus, a play that included nudity. A local ordinance prohibited public nudity, and the controversy heated up, with students marching on City Hall in protest. President Seymour went to court to defend the students’ right to perform the play, saving the production. He often told the story in later years, including one evening at Casa Feliz.
In 1985, President Seymour led the College’s Centennial celebration, saying, “That was the most fun I’ve ever had!” Among the highlights was gathering the Rollins community for a Centennial portrait, a ceremony in Knowles Memorial Chapel, a picnic, and fireworks over the Alfond Swimming Pool. Thaddeus Seymour also stood next to Student Government President Murray Sales ’87 when the Rollins campus greeted the country on Good Morning, America. Adding to the fun was the appearance of President Seymour’s family car, the beloved 1929 Packard.
After leaving the presidency in 1990, Dr. Seymour joined the English Department and taught at Rollins. Leaving administrative duties behind allowed him to focus on “a desire to serve my students well, to do justice to them, to teach as well as I can, have it be a rewarding experience for them and for me. . . you know, that’s what I hoped for when I started out to be a teacher. And then I say playfully to my colleagues, if you can figure out a way to replicate that in your career, what a wonderful time you’re going to have. And that’s what I’ve had.” He continued to teach at Rollins until 2008, the year he celebrated his 80th birthday.
He especially enjoyed teaching in the Rollins College Conference (RCC) program, saying, “I believe in that course. It’s a long story, but I’ve been involved in the development of a course like that since 1959, when we developed something like that at Dartmouth in the English department there. . . let’s have a course which is what new students will hope college will be. Now, they hope college will be X,Y,Z; they come and they end up taking Psych I and they learn about the optic nerves of rats, and then they have to take a language, and they’re dealing with this conjugation of verbs and so on. So let’s get something that teachers are excited about and give the teacher room to get the student excited about it and do it, and let’s have them all be different. And that’s a great idea.”
Those of us who work in the Archives looked forward to a visit or message from Thad. Often his emails to us about an aspect of College history would say, “What fun!” He knew by heart the history of Rollins, which he shared with visitors for many years on a special Alumni Weekend campus tour. He compiled a list of Rollins trivia for tour guests and would even sing a song about the train that used to bring students to and from campus, the Dinky Line. His tour was popular and brought the College’s history to life.
Thaddeus Seymour was not only a wonderful speaker and storyteller, he was also a magician, a hobby that dated back to his childhood. Magic, he said, “has been a very happy part of my life. And part of the fun of it is, it’s intended to bring people pleasure. There’s nothing unkind about it. Nobody loses in magic.”
What a privilege it has been to know Thaddeus Seymour. And what fun!
~by D. Moore, Archival Specialist
The complete transcript of Thaddeus Seymour’s oral history interview may be read at https://bit.ly/31MS3lP.