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Seal leaves lasting impression on Mississippi education

Not only have banking and business lost a powerful influence with the passing of Leo W. Seal Jr., education has lost a staunch, dedicated supporter. The late banker’s commitment to improving education is well known even though much of what he did for education was done anonymously. Since his death last week at the age of 84, stories of his generosity for education are being told.

“Mr. Seal was always passionate in his dedication to education,” said Hancock Bank vice president and corporate communications manager Paul Maxwell. “He did many untold things to foster better education and was generous in his support of Bay St. Louis High School — his alma mater, Pearl River Community College and his other alma mater, Mississippi State University (MSU). He was an avid Bulldog. Three generations of the Seal family attended MSU.”

Seal was an avid Bulldog indeed. Former MSU athletic director and longtime friend Larry Templeton says the university has lost a great friend.

“I don’t know of anyone who’s done more financially and other ways for MSU. I knew him my entire adult life. From the time I went to work at MSU in 1969, he was involved in a big way,” Templeton said. “In my 21 years as director of athletics, we developed a special friendship. He was a leading force in helping us expand the football stadium.”

He recalls how Seal called him every year between Christmas and New Year’s Day to ask if the university could use some money. “Of course, we always needed something,” he says. “He always sent a six-figure check, and most years he would also send a check to the president.”

Noting Seal’s desire for anonymity, Templeton believes there are thousands of students who’ve had scholarships to MSU who don’t know the name of their generous donor. “He would always say ‘that’s between you and me,’ and he was adamant about that,” he said.

As the primary donor for the Templeton Academic Athletic Complex, Seal called Templeton with a request to have a room named for the three coaches for whom he played football during his days at the university.

“I agreed, and then he said he had another request but he wouldn’t tell me what it was,” Templeton said. “Later, I got a call from the president telling me the other request was to name the complex for me. I was honored and humbled. He was a special person.”

One year ago, MSU’s College of Business and Industry opened the Leo W. Seal Family Business Complex, a 52,000-square-foot addition to McCool Hall.

“We are definitely pleased that the expansion of McCool Hall is enabling us to better serve the needs of our business students as well as other MSU students who use our facility in the heart of the campus,” dean Lynne Richardson said at the time of the dedication. “Overall, the new complex has allowed us to greatly enhance the capabilities of the college in delivering undergraduate and graduate education.”

Jack McCarty worked closely with Seal on development for the complex and other endowed funds.

“He was probably the best friend MSU had. Leo was the kind of guy who was intense about things – his family, the bank, his faith and MSU where he supported athletics and academics,” he said. “Pride in his alma mater was instilled in him at an early age.”

Seal’s generosity with significant funds of an unrestricted nature have been greatly appreciated as they allow the school to focus on needs that change from year to year to include scholarships, technology upgrades and faculty and building support.

“The Seal Complex has transformed the College of Business,” McCarty says. “Before it opened, students didn’t hang out in McCool Hall. Now they hang out, even on weekends, in the atrium of the complex where there are flat-screen TVs and tables and chairs.”

On the local level, Seal, a Gulf Coast resident, was involved with a number of programs to strengthen education. Glen East, superintendent of the Gulfport School District, says Seal and Hancock Bank have been great partners.

“They’ve always been major contributors in manpower and funds for our schools,” he said. “I can think of some kids in college now because of him. He was a quiet leader and committed to education. He was passionate about wanting every child to have a quality education.”

Gulfport attorney John Harral shared a passion for education with Seal and was an attorney for Hancock Bank for 30 years. “We had many occasions to discuss the importance of education to the community,” he says. “Leo recognized that one of the most critical elements of a community’s health – whether economic strength, development potential or livability – is its education system from elementary all to the way to university.

“He knew that building strong schools is just as important as building new industry, in fact without one we could never have the other. The Coast and Mississippi education have lost a far sighted and energetic leader.”

The Leo Seal Teacher Recognition Awards were begun by the bank several years ago to honor the achievements of outstanding teachers on the Coast. Marilyn Brown worked in the bank’s marketing department at the time and remembers Seal’s reluctance to have the awards bear his name.

“This award was borne out of his interest in education so we thought it fitting to have his name attached,” she says. “We did a mock-up and showed it to him. He didn’t want his name on it. We convinced him to go along with it by pointing out that it was called Leo Seal and did not have ‘junior’ on it and was also honoring his father. That’s the only way he would agree.”

Brown says Seal was proud of this way of honoring teachers. He always supported the program and attended the presentation luncheons where the five winners are presented pewter apples and $1,500 cash awards.
Nominations are open to all schools with the selection process handled by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. Glen East says just being nominated is an honor for teachers. “We use it every year as a way to recognize teachers. They’re our most shining stars, and it really means a lot to us.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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