The sanctuary of the strikingly beautiful St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral was standing room only last Friday afternoon — even with folding chairs set up in the main aisle and along the walls to accommodate the crowd of some 600 people. It was the memorial service for Arthur Seymour, Jr., a longtime member of St. John’s and a well-known and well-respected downtown attorney and civic leader.
Alan and I were not only good friends of Arthur and his wife, Susan, but close business associates, as well. For 20 years or so, we would partner with Arthur when a mutual client needed both public relations and legal services. Most of the time, we were successful in achieving the client’s goals. But, more importantly, we had a great time working together. Arthur was smart and creative and truly funny whether we were meeting socially or preparing to go before one of the local governing bodies such as City Council, County Commission or the Metropolitan Planning Commission. We at Moxley Carmichael treasure the time we spent with Arthur and the great work we did together.
He and Susan appeared on the Blue Streak many times over the 10 years I’ve been doing this blog. This post includes some of the photos of them from previous posts.
The afternoon service last Friday was perfect. Arthur would have loved it. Four friends of his — representing different aspects of his life — paid tribute. And the Very Rev. John C. Ross, the dean and senior pastor at St. John’s, also made moving personal remarks, calling Arthur “an Episcopalian’s Episcopalian” due to his devotion to the church and the faith.
- Former Knoxville Mayor and Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe grew up with Arthur in the Melrose neighborhood of West Knoxville, now a part of the University of Tennessee campus. He told stories about the two of them as children, including a report of how he, Arthur and other neighborhood kids spent some fun afternoons after school throwing crab apples at passing cars and narrowly avoiding getting into trouble.
- Former U.S. Attorney John Gill was a member, along with Arthur, of a Knoxville book club called The Irving Club, founded in 1886 and consisting of civic leaders. He described Arthur as a voracious reader and related that Arthur’s library at home had books stacked to the ceiling and on the floor under furniture with a couple more opened and balanced on the arms of an easy chair — the only furniture in the room except book cases. “He might have had a refreshing beverage nearby as he enjoyed the books,” Gill allowed.
- John P. Williamson of Louisburg, North Carolina, met Arthur in law school at the University of Tennessee. “He had one of the most colorful personalities I’ve ever seen,” he said, telling a story of a time when Arthur was late to meet him after a UT football game. Arthur blamed “heavy traffic.” Williamson questioned one of the women who had been in Arthur’s car at the time. “Was it really heavy traffic?” he asked. “Well,” she said, “I guess the traffic did get a little heavy after Arthur stopped the car in the middle of the street to hand a beer to the sheriff’s officer directing traffic and then ran into those two parked cars!”
- Matthew Grossman was a law partner of Arthur at the Frantz McConnell & Seymour law firm that Arthur’s grandfather helped establish and where Arthur worked his entire career. “He was the last Southern gentleman lawyer,” Grossman said. “He had eclectic taste and unbridled optimism. He said one of the benefits of being a lawyer was that it gave you a front row seat to the human comedy.” Grossman added that “it was impossible to spend five minutes in Arthur’s company and not come away with a better outlook.”
- The Very Rev. Ross said that most people do not know who they truly are or what they stand for. Not Arthur. “Arthur knew exactly who he was. As much as anyone I’ve known in my adult life. He was a real person. He was authentic.” Ross added that Arthur really focused on people when he was with them. “He would never look past you at a party to see who else was there,” he said. “He was exceptionally good at relationships.” At St. John’s, Arthur “was an integral part of the church,” Ross said. He volunteered to take communion to the sick and homebound as soon as lay people were allowed to do that. “He adored Knoxville,” Ross said. “Knoxville was part of him.” Ross visited with Arthur and Susan quite a bit during his brief bout with the cancer that took his life on March 11. He said Arthur told him, “I’ve had a good life.”
It seems that everyone has an Arthur story. Litton’s restaurant in Fountain City paid tribute to him shortly after his death with a message on its sign: “RIP Arthur S.” Matthew McClellan, proprietor of the men’s clothing store bearing his name in Bearden, says Arthur was a regular there on Saturday mornings. He always held court in an easy chair in the store. McClellan plans to have a commemorative plaque with Arthur’s name put on that chair.
Knox County Commission Chair Hugh Nystrom at a meeting last month called for a moment of silence in honor of Arthur, referring to him as “a fixture, a legend, an institution.” Nystrom described him as a “passionate advocate” for his clients. “He’s been in this building for 20 years in front of County Commission, City Council and the Metropolitan Planning Commission.”
Commissioner Brad Anders called Arthur “a friend, a statesman and a gentleman to everyone whether or not you opposed him.” Commissioner Richie Beeler called him “a great friend and a great thinker.”
Said Commissioner Charles Busler, “He was always not just pushing for development, but pushing for good development. We will miss him greatly.” Commissioner John Schoonmaker said, “I considered him almost a 12th commissioner. His attendance was phenomenal.”
At the memorial service, it made me smile to hear Grossman recount the last words Arthur said to him. They were words he often said as he parted ways with someone: “Have fun!”