Charles Seymour III

Charles Seymour III

Died December 11, 1997

Perhaps the Boston Globe said it best: “ Dr. Charles Seymour, III, an epidemiologist able to capture and marvel at the miracle of life just a few steps into an afternoon walk, died (December 11, 1997) from complications of recent lung transplant surgery” brought on by idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

After Choate, Charley majored in Russian studies at Yale and rowed with the light weight crew. Yale was a family tradition for the Seymours – Charley’s grandfather, Charles, had been president of Yale from 1937 to 1950, and his father, Charles, Jr. was a prominent professor of art history when Charley, III matriculated.

Charley took a year off in 1964 first to gather fossils in Wyoming with a Yale professor, then to go to Egypt for an archeological dig and to gather animals for a museum, then on to the Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika, the Comoro islands and Madagascar. After graduating from Yale in 1966, he returned to Egypt with a Smithsonian trip to study bird viruses. He also learned to snorkel in the Red Sea. Evacuated because of the ’67 Arab-Israeli war, he spent time in Greece, Cyprus and Israel before returning to work for a year at the Yale Arbovirus Lab before beginning graduate school in NYC, focusing on arboviruses in wild animals and doing field work in Guatemala, Panama and Costa Rica.

Charley earned a Ph.D. in 1975 from Cornell University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, majoring in virology, followed by an M.A. from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in environmental policy (Russia) in 1992 and an M.P.H. in 1995 from Harvard School of Public Health (international public health) and worked in Costa Rica. In 1983 he began a fellowship in human microbiology in Hartford, CT.

Charley loved travel, foreign cultures and languages. He was fluent in French and Spanish, and semi-fluent in Italian, Russian and Arabic.

Charley’s cousin and Yale classmate, Jerry Howard (deceased December, 2004), remembered this: “(e)ven when he didn’t intend to be, Charley was enormously entertaining. He’d converse with elderly immigrants in a Jewish Community Center steam room in Russian. He’d launch into a panegyric on the arboviruses of tropical birds while carving your Thanksgiving turkey. He’d whip out his penny whistle on a hike to serenade a banana slug. He’d begin an affectionate discussion of your children by referring to them as LARVAE. And he’d marvel at the psychedelic graphics in a microscopic slide of some pathogen, and lament that so few of his scientific colleagues could appreciate this beauty.”

Charley’s widow, Bebe Williamson, tells us: “ When Charley and I met at a friend’s party, he was wearing a tie embellished by grasshoppers. Our conversation drifted from insects to orchids to microorganisms to medicine. As a physician, I was intrigued by his amazing knowledge of so many subjects of mutual interest, and as a psychiatrist, was grateful for his modesty and wonderful sense of humor. We began a long distance relationship between Hartford and Cambridge, MA, where I was living. When he finished his fellowship, he got a job in Massachusetts and we ultimately were married, settled in Milton, and were blessed with two sons, Lee (Y’09) and Alec (NYU ’15).

Charley’s career had many ups and downs with research funding often being a problem, and he twice went back to graduate school for degrees that he hoped would help steady the course.

He was working in the field of emerging pathogens at the Public Health Department in Rhode Island when he became ill.

Charley loved his work, but his love for his family came first. He shared with Lee and Alec his love of learning, humor, music and joy in everyday life. Charley would be so proud of his boys!”

C. Richard Stasney remembers:
Charlie and I went to Choate and he was my roommate freshman year – because his dad had been president of Yale – we were treated like VIPs and I remember Sunday lunch with his mom.
He taught me one phrase in Russian which I still use when I meet Russian patients – think it was clean, but not certain.

William Lake remembers:
As my freshman roommate, Charlie introduced me to much of what Yale was about. Grandson of a Yale President, son of a professor, a gentle, thoughtful soul, Charlie was a Yale man through and through. I knew I wasn’t in my big California high school any more, and the change was fascinating. Despite our different backgrounds, or maybe because of them, we talked mulch and learned from each other. Over the years after graduation, I watched his career with interest until being saddened by his early death. Thank you, Charlie, for being such a part of my introduction to Yale.

Jeffrey Jennings remembers:
Ah, Charlie! Boon companion. Never failed to get a laugh out of me, and I still smile at the memory.