I rise to honor Thaddeus Seymour Sr., who passed away recently at the age of 91. In an obituary that appeared in the Orlando Sentinel, Thad was described by one of his many admirers as a “community treasure”—and I think that sums up his life and legacy perfectly.
Thad moved with his beloved wife Polly and their children to the Orlando area over 40 years ago when Thad was named the 12th president of Rollins College, where I had the privilege to teach before I was elected to Congress.
Thad served for a dozen years as the president of Rollins, from 1978 to 1990. And although he had long left by the time I arrived, his name was spoken on campus with respect and affection. Thad was recognized as a popular and effective leader of the institution, helping make this gem of a school shine even brighter.
One decision Thad made during his tenure may seem modest, but it was meaningful to the people who know Rollins best. In the 1950s, one of Thad’s predeccessors had established Fox Day. Each spring, as final exams loomed, and on a day considered too beautiful to sit in a classroom, the school’s president would cancel classes and provide students with a surprise day off. The tradition was ended during the Vietnam War, but Thad brought it back.
As Thad would recall years later: “The world had grown so grim. I thought we needed to cheer ourselves up.”
It’s a choice that underscores both Thad’s love of life and his belief that—at core—a college should be a close-knit community, where young men and women live together, learn together, and—in many cases—become lifelong friends. Because Fox Day helped foster this sense of community and shared experience, Thad believed it mattered.
Thad left Rollins in 1990, but he never left central Florida and he never stopped caring about our community. In fact, he literally helped build it—co-founding a chapter of Habitat for Humanity in Winter Park and Maitland.
There is a wonderful picture of Thad in the Orlando Sentinel obituary. He’s helping construct a home for someone less fortunate. He’s perched on a ladder, his shirt is splattered with paint, and he has a broad smile on his face.
That’s how I’ll always remember Thad—happily helping, happily building.
Rest in Peace President Seymour.