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Seal leaves large footprints behind

Ordinarily, the death of a man would hardly rank as a top news story of the year. However, there was nothing ordinary about Leo Seal Jr., longtime bank executive, economic and community developer and philanthropist.

When he died Nov. 18, many struggled to find words to communicate his impact on his beloved Hancock County, the Gulf Coast, the entire state and beyond (MBJ, Nov. 24, “Footprint of service: Seal’s philanthropy affected tens of thousands of Mississippians”).

“Leo was a giant among business leaders, and his legacy will live on,” said Anthony Topazi, president and CEO of Mississippi Power.

“People just don’t know how much he helped the Coast, and he preferred it that way by giving so much anonymously,” said Paul Guichet, vice president of investor relations and corporate governance at Hancock Holding.

A native of Hancock County, Seal followed in his footsteps of his father, Leo Seal Sr., who led Hancock Bank for more than 30 years. Seal Jr. started at the bottom, worked in practically every department at the bank and succeeded his father in 1963.

Under Seal’s leadership, Hancock Bank grew into a solid regional player, and his influence on the entire banking industry was immense. Mississippi Banking Association president Mac Deaver said Seal was referred to as “Mr. Mississippi Banker.”

Seal established himself as a champion of economic and community development, and his footprints are most obvious there. Seal played one of the leading roles in landing the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, and his success was such that he was a much sought after consultant for projects all along the Gulf Coast, from Texas to Florida.

For many, though, it was Seal’s generosity that they most remember. He gave, more times than not anonymously, to further the education of students across the Coast. No one will ever know just how many people owe their college degrees to Seal.

Certainly Mississippi State University (MSU) knows of Seal’s generosity. An MSU alumnus, he gave millions to his alma mater, and his name can be found across the Starkville campus from the Leo W. Seal Family College of Business Complex to the Leo Seal M-Club building (named in honor of Seal Sr. by his son).

A man of deep faith, Seal left an indelible mark on his church, Main Street United Methodist Church. His former pastor, Rev. Rick Brooks, remembered how in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina he was wandering aimlessly, wondering what to do next, when he found Seal camping out behind his heavily damaged home.

“He was the voice of calm reason and assurance about the decision that was before me,” Brooks said. “Here was a man of untold means and influence, and virtually everyone knew it. But you would never know that by his demeanor or by the humble spirit he brought to worship or to the work of the church.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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