Remembering Tom Seavey

January 5th, 2017

Tom Seavey (1944-2016), co-founder of Stenhouse Publishers

tom-portraitOn Christmas Day, Tom Seavey, who founded Stenhouse with his wife, Philippa Stratton, died suddenly of a heart attack after spending a wonderful day with his family. Tom is being remembered as a loving and devoted husband, father, and grandfather, as well as an innovative and highly-regarded publisher of books for educators.

Tom helped launch Heinemann in 1978 where, together with colleague John Watson, they grew the company to become the leading publisher of professional development books for teachers. In 1980 they were joined by Philippa Stratton, Tom’s wife, who focused on finding and cultivating authors. Heinemann went on to publish several authors who would become familiar names to nearly every educator in the country–including Don Graves, Lucy Calkins, and Nancie Atwell.

In 1993, Tom and Philippa left Heinemann to start Stenhouse Publishers as a subsidiary of Highlights for Children of Columbus, Ohio. At Stenhouse, Tom and Philippa repeated the success they had had at Heinemann with a series of bestselling titles. In 2010, Philippa became the only publisher to win the Outstanding Educator Award from the National Council of Teachers of English for the body of work she and Tom had published at Heinemann and Stenhouse.

“Tom’s approach to publishing combined taste, independence, curiosity and, often, a non-traditional mode of thinking,” said Kent Johnson, CEO of Highlights for Children. “Because of his modesty, only a few people truly know the greatness of his contributions to these publishing houses and, most importantly, to educators.”

After a life of work on behalf of teachers, Tom retired in 2008. His wide-ranging interests included reading, travel, cooking, furniture-making, learning Hungarian, and volunteering at Florence House, Portland’s women’s shelter, where he helped prepare and serve lunch.

Tom is survived by Philippa and their daughter, Eliza Seavey, who is the nurse manager at Harbour Women’s Health in Portsmouth, NH. She is married to wife Jamie Stone and the couple have two children, Nora and Ben.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Preble Street (preblestreet.org), the umbrella organization for the Florence House women’s shelter where Tom volunteered.

Tributes to Tom by Stenhouse staff members:

From Dan Tobin, president of Stenhouse:

About 11 years ago this month, my sister-in-law Toby Gordon called to tell me her old friend Tom Seavey was leaving his position as marketing manager at Stenhouse. She thought I might be interested in the job. Toby had worked with Tom and Philippa for years at Heinemann and she thought Philippa and I would make a good team at Stenhouse.

I was a big fan of what Tom and Philippa had accomplished at both Heinemann and Stenhouse so I gave Tom a call. That led to the strangest and most interesting series of job interviews I’ve ever had. At some point in the conversations, we reversed roles and I began telling Tom why I lacked the experience to fill his shoes while Tom was working to convince me I was the ideal candidate. Of course, Tom won the argument; he was very persuasive.

Where Tom, Philippa, and I connected was our common commitment to teachers. I had spent 13 years as a curriculum editor and writer at EDC, a nonprofit education research organization, and the one thing I had learned from studying decades of EDC school reform research is that the teacher is the most important variable. A mediocre curriculum in the hands of a good teacher is better than a wonderful curriculum in the hands of a mediocre teacher. In the end, it’s the skills and knowledge of the teacher that matters most.

Fortunately for me, Tom stuck around to teach me the business. He left Stenhouse to go to work for our parent company, Highlights for Children, selling international rights and he moved his desk to an empty office on our first floor. Several times each week, I would go down and sit in the rocking chair next to Tom’s desk and pepper him with questions. He was the perfect mentor—patient, wise, and clear.

Well, not always totally clear. Tom had a thick Maine accent and he sprinkled his advice with all sorts of colorful terms and expressions. The introduction to the catalog was “guff.” Good conversations were “mulch.” Pointless conversations were “chin music” and pointless guff was “flapdoodle.”

Tom was a man of strong opinions but that was coupled with endless curiosity and intense modesty. He loved to turn the spotlight on others he found to be smart and interesting—especially teachers. That’s his legacy at both Stenhouse and Heinemann.

From Toby Gordon, math and science editor:

I met Tom in June 1988, on my first day as a young editor at Heinemann. He ambled over to my desk, not bothering to introduce himself, and in his thick Maine accent—which I took as British—he started asking me questions about me and my job. I discovered over the years that this curiosity spread into all corners of his life—from his brilliant co-directing of Heinemann and then Stenhouse with Philippa, to his love for beautiful wooden furniture-making, to gourmet cooking, to  the most wide-ranging reading interests I’ve ever known. And underlying these pursuits was a down-to-earth, unpretentious spirit; always looking and commenting on the world with a particularly wry wit, Tom never ceased to amuse and amaze me.

Tom and I became good friends at work and in the world, as our young families grew up together, picnicking in Philippa and Tom’s beautiful backyard, swimming at Peak’s Island, hanging out in NYC. In our more recent years, we swapped names of doctors and mechanics.

In one of the last emails Tom sent me, he thanked me for passing on the name of one particularly gifted fix-it guy. In his typical Tom-esque style, he wrote:

“Thanks for recommending Aaron. We have decided to form a fan club. If he does everything as well as he did our bathroom, he’s a shoo-in to replace LePage [Maine’s controversial governor]. Probably could also solve the mind-body problem, find the least common denominator, and explain the rules of cricket.”

This short note says so much—why I found Tom so endearing, and why I’ll miss him so.

From Maureen Barbieri, editor:

I knew Tom as the head honcho at Heinemann during the years when I was a classroom teacher. I’d see him at the booth at NCTE conferences year after year, engaged in conversations with authors, teachers, and other school people, always interested and knowledgeable. He had great radar, much like Philippa did, when it came to scoping out new talent. When I asked Mary Ehrenworth, then a high school art history teacher, to present with me in 1999, Tom came to hear us. Later he sought me out to ask for more information on her, suspecting she’d be the new ‘it girl.’ And he was right. Of course, it wasn’t long before Mary became a Heinemann star.

As the years passed and Philippa and I became friends, I had the chance to know him socially as well, and I was impressed with his insatiable curiosity and his wonderful sense of humor. He was a reader, and he had definite opinions on things. Smart, but eager to hear what other people thought. I found him fascinating, if a bit intimidating. He had a way of looking right at you, asking the follow-up question that made you examine your premise, reconsider your point.

When I looked at Tom and Philippa I saw a true partnership. Two equals, smart, passionate, creative people making a fascinating life together. I saw affection, respect, admiration, even devotion. They seemed to get much more out of life than most people – traveling, house swapping, attending concerts and plays, reading everything, and always making time for friends. Tom’s volunteer work, quietly done, revealed another side of his character. What kind of a person shows up to sit with a hospice patient week after week and then spends time with the family as they adjust to their loss? Who makes a commitment to work in the kitchen of a homeless women’s shelter? Tom Seavey did, and for many years. A quiet example of what a life well lived can look like.

My favorite memory of Tom is from a summer day in 2015. My husband Richie had been gone for about five months, and I was having lunch at their lovely house, babbling away. I caught myself, and apologized, explaining that, since I now lived alone, I tended to ramble on whenever I got to be with people. Tom was reassuring. ‘Oh, no, don’t worry. You are welcome here,’ he said. And the thing is, I believed him.

From Zsofi McMullin, marketing content editor:

I first met Tom at the cafeteria of Maine Medical Center. I worked at the hospital at the time and received a cryptic message from the hospital’s interpreter services – a man called them looking for someone to teach him Hungarian.

That man turned out to be Tom and we met once a week for several months for Hungarian lessons. For a while I couldn’t really understand why he was trying to learn Hungarian – an impossibly difficult language – but I think he must have liked the challenge and I know that he loved the country, spending weeks in a rented flat in Budapest, sometimes transporting packages back to the U.S. for me from my mom.

We always chatted for a while after our lessons and during one of those conversations I mentioned that I didn’t particularly enjoy working at the hospital. Tom said that he knew just the right job and company for me and after a few rounds of interviews I landed at Stenhouse. That was almost 12 years ago now and I will always be grateful to him for bringing me into the Stenhouse family.

Entry Filed under: Author News

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Stacey Shubitz  |  January 6th, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    I never had the pleasure of meeting Tom, but it is clear he was a visionary. What a legacy — both professional and personal — he has left behind!

    My deepest condolences to you, Philippa, and to the rest of your family. May Tom’s memory always be a blessing.

  • 2. Shirl McPhillips  |  January 8th, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    I am saddened to hear of Tom’s passing and send swift messages of love to Philippa and all who knew him.

    Thomas Merton wrote, “It’s not ideas that save the world but simple gestures of love given to the people around you.”

    Though I didn’t know Tom well, this is what stays when I think of his kindness and support when we worked on A Note Slipped Under the Door: Teaching From Poems We Love.

    I am grateful, again and again, to Philippa and Tom. How he will be missed.

    Love,
    Shirl

  • 3. Ron Caso  |  July 31st, 2017 at 8:54 am

    I was shocked and saddened to discover the news of Tom’s passing. Tom hired me at Heinemann in 1991. I remember my initial interview at a Logan Airport hotel. Tom had only rented the conference room until noon, and when we ran into overtime, he continued our interview, unfazed, in the busy hotel lobby.

    He was a great boss who knew the industry inside and out, and he became a good friend. His interests were varied—except for movies (“I just don’t get them,” he told me)—and he appreciated a sense of humor as droll and dry as his own. I will miss him. My sincere condolences to Philippa, Eliza, the rest of his family and the Stenhouse staff.

    Regards,
    Ron Caso

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