Jerry Seawright, founder and longtime director of the Blue Devils, passed away yesterday. The following Fanfare column ran on April 11, 2003. A few weeks ago, I asked readers to send in impressions and memories of one of my favorite people, Jerry Seawright, founder and former director of the Blue Devils. I've always known Jerry to be a class act. The readers concurred.
Potential members of Blue Devils could be forgiven if the procedure of auditioning for the corps was somewhat scary. But running into Jerry helped soothe the fears and make them feel at home. Christina Mavroudis is a former member of the corps. As she tells, it, "In 1980, I wrote the Blue Devils requesting information on how to audition. I received a personal letter from Jerry, who said he would pass along my request to the percussion caption head. He also said that he looked forward to seeing me at the auditions. "Arriving extremely early in the day, I found myself in the bingo hall, a little lost and largely impressed by the collection of awards and banners. The only one around was a white-haired gentleman scaling a tall ladder, proudly putting up the latest Championship banner from the past summer. Shyly, I asked if he could direct me to where auditions were going to be held. With no idea who this man was, I erroneously suspected he was either part of the maintenance team or a volunteer parent. "With a smile, he extended his hand and introduced himself as Jerry Seawright, then literally took me under his wing and gave me a small tour to pass the time. "He left me with the impression of a man both approachable, yet business-like, punctuated by a pride for the BD organization that continues two decades later." David Weinberg marched with the corps in 1980, having earlier marched with the Anaheim Kingsmen from 1976 through 1978. He has since written drill for a number of corps and a multitude of marching bands. David recalls, "I first met Mr. Seawright at the first camp in January of 1980. He welcomed the entire corps and especially all of the new members. He knew that many of us auditioned to fill one or two horn spots. I auditioned for the corps in early November and filled a lower-lead position. "After the end of our third camp in March of 1980, I had to be driven to the airport by the next day. No one could drive me, but Mr. Seawright volunteered his home to me to stay overnight, and then be taken to the airport. I met his family members and had the opportunity to see all of his personal photos. It was incredible to see the beginning of the Blue Devils ... seeing some great shots of the corps at many local shows, regionals, and DCI World Championships. It was a special touch for me because of how much I loved drum corps (and still do), and now I was part of a World-Champion drum corps. "Mr. Seawright was a really nice man and had a great sense of humor. He proved to me that he was very organized and wanted to share his wisdom with others. I also felt that Mr. Seawright knew that he was an example to all of the members. I took that very seriously and showed my respect by my dedication to the corps. "Thank you Mr. Seawright for your kindness and dedication to all of the Blue Devils Corps members." Jerry was a friend to his own marchers, and the marchers of other corps as well. Nigel Crabb came over from the United Kingdom with a couple friends, joining the Blue Devils on tour in 1981, 1983 and 1984. As Nigel tells it, "At the time we were marching in the UK with the Brighton Scouts. Our first visit to the US was in 1980 when we attended several regional shows and then finals in Birmingham. We immediately became huge fans of the Blue Devils, and when we returned to the UK, we decided to write to Jerry and ask if we could travel with the corps the following summer. Jerry not only gave us permission to do so, he went out of his way to make us feel part of the Blue Devils family during each of the three summers we spent with them. "Throughout each tour, we became informal members of the staff, helping out with a variety of jobs ... a lot of manual labor as I remember. Although we always provided our own transport, we traveled in convey with the corps buses. We ate with the corps, shared their accommodations and enjoyed watching many hours of rehearsals. "We made many friends and there were many highlights during our trips. Perhaps the one that stands out the most for me was being allowed to join the corps for retreat on the field after the 1981 DCI World Championships in Montreal, wearing our Brighton Scouts uniforms. Jerry, must be thanked for making this possible." Jerry always took the time to respond to the legions of fans that wrote the Blue Devils, and he was especially attentive to responding to the corps' younger fans. Daniel Neimeyer marched tenors with Madison Scouts from 1987 through 1992, and has been on the corps' staff ever since. When he was 9 years old, he wrote Jerry after the 1981 season, when he was just learning about drum corps. Daniel remembers, "My favorite group was the Blue Devils. I took it upon myself to take out the typewriter and compose a short note, something like, 'Congratulations on your second-place finish at DCI. Keep it up and one day you'll win.' [Daniel was unaware the corps had already won four DCI titles.] Mr. Seawright wrote me back, stating, 'Dan, thanks for your support!' The note was on the Blue Devils letterhead, in a BD envelope and included a BD sticker. I thought this was amazing. He took the time to write back a fan in Racine, Wis. "After the 1983 season, I wrote him again saying that his drum line was fantastic and that I saw the corps multiple times that season. Once again, he took the time to write me back, saying that he passed on my comments to Tom Float, the percussion arranger at the time. "Jerry Seawright is a class act, as is the organization that he built." Patrick Seidling is the director of Phantom Regiment. He's been a BD fan since his youth. "I started in drum corps as a 9-year-old. I first saw Blue Devils live in 1976 and I was amazed. I instantly became (and still am) a HUGE fan of that corps. The 1976 BD show still blows my mind! "So, in 7th grade, I wrote a fan letter and enclosed a Blue Devil logo I had designed (in colored pencil on note pad paper). I mailed it to Mr. Seawright. A few weeks later I got a hand-signed letter back thanking me. "I was so impressed that a man of his caliber had taken the time to write back a country kid in northern Wisconsin. I still have that letter, and today as a corps director I personally answer every fan letter the Phantom Regiment gets, and the ones from young people always get extra attention." Jerry also cared for the young people who didn't write him letters. Bobby Stein was a member of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Ridgemen, an inner city corps from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The corps was on its first tour in 1973, the year before Blue Devils made DCI World Championship finals for the first time. According to Bobby, "We were staying on a gym floor in the Toledo, Ohio area and we shared the same gym floor with the very young Concord Blue Devils. Being a traditional Eastern drum corps, and not possessing 'road savvy,' within three days of our trip, we were essentially out of money, out of food, and two days away from our next stop where we would encounter civilization ... and food! "Being of good spirits, but hungry, and a little envious -- maybe a lot -- we watched as the Blue Devils boarded their busses and went to eat at a pizza joint. Our well meaning -- but uninitiated -- management neglected to plan for one important but essential detail -- food! "Mr. Seawright, being the man that he was, had the intuitiveness to read into our situation and returned from his dinner with boxes and boxes of pizza for everyone. He actually looked like the 'messiah with mana from heaven' to a bunch of very hungry kids from Brooklyn. "I have never forgotten Mr. Seawright's kindness and generosity to us kids that day and will always be grateful to him. I wanted to thank him personally, but before I could, he said, "Saddle up, Blue Devils," and they were gone. "So thanks, Mr. Seawright, from all of us 'kids' from Brooklyn."
Gail Royer (left) and Jerry Seawright in 1983.