Centenarian Alum Continues to Work at Firm Bearing His Name

July 30, 2010

One of the Law School's oldest living alums will turn 100 next week - and is still commuting to work at the downtown Manhattan law firm that bears his name, just as he's done since 1953.

George Seward '36, left, with longtime secretary Paula Huffell.

George C. Seward '36 will mark a century of life Wednesday by working as senior counsel at Seward & Kissel, a firm focused on corporate and litigation work for clients seeking expertise in the financial services, corporate finance and capital market areas.

"I enjoy it and there are always new ideas being generated," Seward said of his legal work.

As just one mark of his long and distinguished career, Seward's office at One Battery Park Plaza affords him a view of the Statue of Liberty. The view inside his office reveals a successful - and sentimental - man. On one wall is a pencil sketch of the courthouse where Seward was sworn in as a lawyer in 1935 (a year before he graduated, he proudly points out - he would later be admitted to the bar in New York, Kentucky and the District of Columbia). Facing his desk are two black wooden chairs adorned with the University of Virginia seal.

Seward still proudly shows his 1935 letter of introduction from mentor and assistant dean of the Law School George B. Eager, announcing to whom it may concern that Mr. Seward is "a young gentleman of the highest character and integrity, marked ability, correct habits and pleasing personality."

During his career, Seward built a reputation as a renowned expert on business law. He was chair of the American Bar Association's Section of Business Law in 1958-59 and is still an honorary member of the council.

In the 1970s, Seward's attention turned to international law. He founded the business law section of the International Bar Association and is still its Honorary Life President. A series of lectures is given each year in his name by global luminaries such as former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi, the presidents of Portugal and Hungary, as well as the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Perhaps his nomadic childhood preordained his interest in global law. Seward was born in Omaha in 1910, the son of a builder, George F. Seward, whose frequent moves meant young George C. would attend schools in six different states. Young Seward remembered how his father admired the lawyers that he employed in the course of doing business.

In 1929, he graduated from Male High School in Louisville, Ky. , and was off to Charlottesville to attend the University.

Seward supported himself through college and later at the Law School by doing whatever work he could find.

"I quickly made great friends at the University and proved that I could handle lots of different jobs," Seward said. He even worked on occasion as a babysitter for Eager, the assistant dean of the Law School. A UVA staff member went so far as to complain that Seward "had too many jobs, I should share the wealth," Seward said.

"One of the things I enjoyed most was walking down the Lawn, which is the epitome of the entire University - which I still miss," Seward said.

Despite juggling several jobs, he graduated cum laude, was Phi Beta Kappa and a member of the Raven Society while at the University — the first of dozens of honors and accomplishments throughout his life.

He's been juggling jobs and hobbies ever since as an author, a genealogist, and even a Kentucky Colonel. He and his wife Carroll also raised four children.

If asked, Seward will proudly tell the story of his first victory as a lawyer, defending a local janitor against charges he had stolen a watch. Then the conversation may switch to the economics of Central and Eastern Europe.

Surrounded by the treasures and accolades accumulated from a life that now spans a century, Seward is working on documenting his firm's history. The firm, at 120 years, is barely older than he.

Aided by his secretary of 32 years, Paula Huffell, Seward spends his work days greeting visitors and answering correspondence from around the world. Most inquiries are from lawyers seeking wisdom born from over seven decades of service and experience.

New York Times: Hitting the Century Mark, and Still Behind His Desk

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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