Robert Seager II, 79, historian who founded UB graduate school

July 26, 2004|By Michael Stroh | Michael Stroh,SUN STAFF

Robert Seager II, an award-winning historian who established the University of Baltimore's graduate school, died Wednesday of heart failure. He was 79 and lived in Reston, Va.

A specialist in American military and diplomatic history, Dr. Seager held several teaching and administrative posts at Maryland schools during his career.

He taught history at the Naval Academy in Annapolis from 1961 to 1967 and was dean of Washington College in Chestertown from 1970 to 1972.

Dr. Seager then became president for academic affairs at the University of Baltimore. At UB, Dr. Seager helped the school make the complex transition from a private university to a state-run school.

But his proudest administrative accomplishment, family members say, was launching UB's graduate school in 1973. In its first year, the school enrolled 200 students. By the time he left UB for the University of Kentucky in 1977, the graduate school's ranks had swelled to more than 1,000 students.

Dr. Seager was born in Nanking, China, the son of Episcopal missionaries. He served as a merchant marine in World War II, an experience that sparked his lifelong interest in ships and the military. After he returned, he earned a bachelor's degree from Rutgers University, a master's from Columbia University and a doctorate from Ohio State University.

He was the author of several award-winning histories. His 1963 book on the 10th president, And Tyler, Too: A Biography of John and Julia Gardiner Tyler, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Tyler, a man dubbed "His Accidency" by detractors, was the first vice president to be elevated to the nation's top post because of the death of his predecessor, William Henry Harrison.

While at the Naval Academy, Dr. Seager edited the papers of 19th-century American naval strategist Alfred Mahan, an experience that later led him to write Alfred Thayer Mahan: The Man and His Letters. The biography, published in 1977 by the Naval Institute Press, won numerous awards.

His last major project, which he started after leaving UB for the University of Kentucky, was editing the papers of Kentucky statesman Henry Clay.

Dr. Seager was known for his wit, his finely crafted prose -- written with No. 2 pencils, never a personal computer -- and for the lifelong friendships he maintained with many of his former students, said his companion, Judith Park of Reston.

"He always had a good story to tell," recalled Drusilla Chairs, his former administrative assistant at the University of Baltimore.

Dr. Seager's family plans to hold a private memorial service next month.

In addition to his companion, he is survived by a sister-in-law, Susan P. Walker of Marion, Va.; a nephew and a niece. His wife, the former Caroline Parrish, died in 2002.

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