Steady hand at Somerville
SAMUEL MAXWELL SEYMOUR
Minister, college principal
Born: November 17, 1922, Hobart
Died: June 14, 2015, Brisbane
IT WAS a dramatic introduction to Brisbane when Rev. Sam Seymour arrived in January 1974 to become the eighth principal of Somerville House, the Brisbane High School for Girls founded in 1899.
There was torrential rain and Brisbane suffered its worst flooding since 1893. He arrived to find the grounds neglected during the long Christmas holiday, looking even worse after the incessant rain.
The start of the school year was delayed a week as everyone cleaned, dried, swept and generally recovered from a major natural disaster.
Sam Seymour was only the second male principal in the school’s history, yet he presided over a significant time in the development of buildings and technological change.
This also was a time of curriculum challenge and change, with teachers having to accommodate changes in the way student results were calculated and reported.
He gave the school the steady hand it needed during a tumultuous time.
Samuel was the first child of Percival and Florence Seymour of Hobart. He was followed four years later by his brother, Geoffrey, and four years after by a sister, Patricia.
The children attended Elizabeth St Primary and Hobart High school. Family life was happy even though times were tough and money tight.
After matriculating, Sam enrolled at the Philip Smith Training College and also began a science degree at the University of Tasmania.
His first placement after graduation was at a tiny country school outside of Hobart. It was to be the start of a long and successful career educating young minds.
Sam moved to Melbourne where he attended Melbourne University and changed his studies to arts and education.
He became junior resident master at Ivanhoe Grammar School, where he was also a boarding master – one who rode a motorbike as his primary means of transport.
After four years at Ivanhoe, Sam joined the staff of Methodist Ladies’ College in Melbourne in 1949, as a science teacher. While here, he decided to train and serve as a deacon at a local church, his path to becoming an ordained minister of the Church of England.
It was a busy time, teaching, training for the ministry and working for Wantirna South Church, but when his mother told him young Patricia Flint had also moved to Melbourne from Hobart, he still found time to make contact.
Romance developed and they were married in Melbourne in 1961. A daughter, Kathryn, was born in 1964 followed by son, Mark, in 1966.
In 1973, Sam replied to a newspaper advertisement for the position of principal at Somerville House in Brisbane, even though the closing date for applications had passed.
But the school had not chosen anyone at that stage and Sam was invited to an interview. He was successful and before they knew it, the family was driving north to a new home in Brisbane.
During the delayed start of the first term of 1974, a parent phoned Sam to say it was impossible to get their daughter to school because of the floods and their own damaged house.
Sam welcomed the student to his own home where she stayed until her parents had dealt with their flooded house.
It was such openness and preparedness to be available to the school community that defined Sam’s tenure and the approach he and Patricia took to school life during the day and with the boarders after 3pm and on weekends.
The whole family became part of school life as they lived in the big white house at the Graham St entrance to the school. Patricia was always busy with school matters and was a second mother to many boarders.
One boarder woke from a tonsillectomy to find Rev. Seymour had been sitting by her bedside for several hours, not as her principal but as a parent, standing in for her own who were thousands of kilometres away and unable to be there.
Sam loved to travel and led many school tours, enjoying the time with students and parents and travelling to places such as Papua New Guinea, China, Japan and Nepal.
He introduced the first of many overseas tours by the school and extended the Somerville House catchment area beyond Queensland to include “the world”.
Sam had many ideas and was instrumental in establishing a master plan for the expansion and development of the school. The Somerville House Foundation was established and enrolments increased from 700 to more than 900.
Properties in Graham St at the southern perimeter of the school and in Stephens Rd on the northern perimeter were acquired. This allowed the creation of the Mavis Holden Boarding centre and ultimat- ely construction of the swimming pool and physical education facilities. After successfully leading Somerville for 14 years, Sam retired in 1987.
In 2001, he was honoured to officially open the Seymour Library Information Centre.
After their retirement, Sam and Patricia continued to travel. Sam maintained his interest in education and played an active role on a committee that provided bursaries and scholarships for educating children and grandchildren of returned servicemen.
He also continued to play a role in the church and officiated at many ceremonies.
In recent years, he enjoyed taking the Anzac service at the RSL Moreton Shores retirement village where he and Patricia spent their final years.
Sam’s loving and caring nature shone through when he found himself having to care for Patricia for many years up until her death in 2013.
Rev. Seymour will be remembered for his sense of humour, integrity, tolerance, consistency, courage, honesty, humility, kindness and compassion. His strong faith served as the points of his moral compass on his journey through life.
Sam is survived by his two children and their families.