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Charles Seymour, III

Died: December 11, 1997

When Charles Seymour III died on December 11, 1997, the Boston Globe described him as “an epidemiologist able to capture and marvel at the miracle of life just a few steps into an afternoon walk.” He died from complications of lung transplant surgery brought on by idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Charley majored in Russian studies at Yale and rowed with the lightweight crew. Yale was a family tradition — his grandfather, Charles, had been president of Yale, and his father, Charles, Jr., was a professor of art history. C. Richard Stasney, a roommate, remembers: “Because of his granddad and dad, 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.” Another roommate, William Lake, remembers: “Charley introduced me to what Yale was about. I knew I wasn’t in my big California high school any more.”

Charley took a year off in 1964 first to gather fossils in Wyoming, 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 he returned to Egypt to study bird viruses and 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 and beginning graduate school in New York City. He focused on arboviruses in wild animals and did field work in Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica.

Charley earned a Ph.D. in 1975 from Cornell, majoring in virology, followed in 1992 by an M.A. from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and in 1995 by an M.P.H. from Harvard School of Public Health. In 1983 he began a fellowship in human microbiology in Hartford, Connecticut.

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Charley’s widow, Bebe Williamson, remembers:

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. We 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!

Michael Crutcher remembers:

I got to know Charley my senior year as a fellow brother in Book and Snake. He was a smart, funny and unassuming guy, who carried his Yale connections — his father a Yale professor of art and grandfather a Yale president — lightly.

Charley wanted a camera for his planned ornithological expedition to Egypt. He was a novice photographer and needed guidance. I had sold cameras for three months at the Seattle World’s Fair and volunteered to help him. I helped pick out a Pentax Spotmatic 35 mm camera for him at a local camera store, which was a good product. I was less helpful when I suggested he buy a 150 mm telephoto lens. Later I realized that this lens would be woefully inadequate for Charley’s bird photography in the wild.

Charley also needed a car, and here I was in luck — being under instructions from my father to get rid of my 1960 Mercedes Benz 190 Sedan and to send the proceeds to him. (The previous summer I had borrowed $500 to buy the car and had since spent $600 in repairs. Dad was now calling the loan to help pay tuition.) Charley bailed me out by offering to buyer the car for $900, which would get me out of the hole, at least partially. He seemed pretty nonchalant about the car and its somewhat tattered condition.

To seal the deal I was invited to Sunday lunch at Charley’s parent’s house in New Haven. During the meal his rather formidable mother left the room for a while. When she returned, I learned the ulterior motive in inviting me to lunch. Mrs. Seymour had been inspecting the car and had questions for me. (She apparently lacked confidence confidence in Charley’s business acumen.)

“I thought you said this car had 60,000 miles on it,” she said, “but the speedometer shows 90,000 miles!” The eyes of the family members around the table rotated in my direction. They seemed to share a suspicion that Charley had fallen into the clutches of a used car salesman.

I hastily explained that the car was a European edition with a speedometer that read in kilometers instead of miles. Ninety thousand kilometers roughly equaled 60 thousand miles. Mrs. Seymour seemed disappointed in this information but otherwise accepted it gracefully.

Two years later Charley came to visit us in Cambridge, where I was in law school. An epic snowstorm ensued and he was marooned with us for three days. He finally left driving the Mercedes.