Walter Hamilton Seward (1896-2008), RC’17, was oldest graduate of university and its Classical Course

He knew Rutgers at a time when ancient Greek was compulsory for the AB degree. When undergrads climbed the steps to the top floor of Old Queens to study Latin with William Hamilton “Poppy” Kirk (trained at Hopkins by Gildersleeve), and learned constitutional law from Austin “Scotty” Scott (a student at Berlin of Mommsen, Droysen and Curtius who went on to hold the Rutgers presidency). When juniors and seniors took Roman Law as a two year sequence. When Classics students had pride of place during services at Kirkpatrick Chapel, sitting in reserved front pews. (Ag students had to worship from the very back.) When the reigning version of “On the Banks of the Old Raritan” was the one the Peerless Quartet cut for Columbia in 1915. (Listen here.)

Walter H. Seward was the oldest alumnus of Rutgers College—and its rigorous Classical Course that essentially defined the undergraduate liberal arts experience in New Brunswick from 1771 through 1924. He died on 14 September 2008 at the age of 111. Seward at the time of his death had the distinction of being the third oldest male in the United States, and the sixth oldest in the world. He practiced law in New Jersey into his 90s.

Walter Seward was featured on the Fall 2008 back cover of Rutgers Magazine

Rick Malwitz of Gannett NJ reports : “Seward was born Oct. 13, 1896, and raised in Toledo, Ohio. He and his family moved to Vineland [NJ] when he was a child. Seward was a member of the Rutgers Class of 1917, living in the same dorm as Paul Robeson, an All-America football player and civil rights activist. Seward served as a water boy for the football team. [He did however manage to play in one game, as right guard, for a single down—Ed]. In addition to being the oldest alumnus of Rutgers, he was the oldest living graduate of Harvard Law School [class of 1924] at the time of his death.”

Mark Mueller in the Newark-based Star-Ledger offers a superb longer obituary. Seward himself spoke of his Rutgers Classics classroom experiences in great detail in a 1996 oral history interview conducted by the RU-New Brunswick History Department Oral History Archives of WW II. Articles of recent years in Rutgers’ Daily Targum and the Harvard Gazette shed further light on Seward’s student experiences and beyond. “I didn’t think they were ‘Roaring'”, said Seward of the 1920s. “I thought they were preposterous.”

In addition to his children, Jonathan Seward and Mary Mae Henley, Seward leaves two grandchildren. His wife, Florence “Betty” Seward, died six years ago at age 83.

A funeral service will be held at 10 AM Saturday 20 September at Kirkpatrick Chapel on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick. A viewing is scheduled for Friday 19 September from 2 to 4 PM and 7 to 9 PM at the Preston Funeral Home at 153 S Orange Avenue in South Orange NJ.

The Rutgers Classics community expresses its deepest sympathy to the Seward family for its loss.

William H. Seward on 16 September 2007, precisely one year previous to the date of this post.

Photograph: Nina Nicholson

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4 responses to “Walter Hamilton Seward (1896-2008), RC’17, was oldest graduate of university and its Classical Course

  1. I met Mr Seward at the reunion….
    I wish we all live such fulfilled lives…..
    My only regret was not to ask him about his life experiences ….( lesson learned)

  2. Walter was also the oldest active alumni. He initiated the Memorial Chapel Service in 1967, the year he entered the Old Guard. He coordinated the Service every year until 2002, when he accepted some assistance. Walter was cut from a special cloth that must have been Scarlet, because he was dedicated and proud of Rutgers. It will be a long time before another Walter Seward comes along.

  3. Pingback: Paul Robeson RC’19: athlete, actor, singer, writer, activist…and Rutgers Classics scholar «

  4. J.D. RC Class of 1987

    It was an honor and pleasure to meet Mr. Seward after the Kirkpatrick Chapel Service at the 2007 Reunion. I shall always remember the kind words he spoke to me and his remarkable college boy’s enthusiasm. His omnipresence is sorely missed yet remains as an inspiration.

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