Sam Seymour Receives Whitney North Seymour Award at Council’s Winter Meeting
By Bennette D. Kramer
The Federal Bar Council held its annual Winter Bench and Bar Conference at the Casa de Campo Resort in the Dominican Republic from February 14 through February 21, 2015. John P. Coffey chaired the meeting and Second Circuit Judge Richard C. Wesley headed the Planning Committee. Council President Vilia Hayes presented the Whitney North Seymour Award for excellence in public service by a private practitioner to Samuel Seymour, Whitney North Seymour’s grandson. Sam thanked Vilia for the introduction and then talked about his grandfather (called “Whit”).
Sam talked about Whit’s upbringing in the Midwest in modest circumstances. Whit’s father had started out as a lawyer in New York but dropped out to become a painter, novelist, and itinerant history lecturer. Whit worked his way through the University of Wisconsin and then attended Columbia Law School. He then became a pillar of the New York bar and a preeminent New York figure.
Whit Seymour was Sam Seymour’s role model. Sam considered Whit the preeminent New York litigator and bar leader of the day, who contributed to public service and the public interest while he practiced law at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. Whit served as president of the American Bar Association, the New York City Bar (as did Sam), and the American College of Trial Lawyers. He also was active in numerous other organizations. Most important to Sam, however, were Whit’s integrity, courtesy, kindness, respect for others, and professionalism. Whit practiced law as a zealous and tough advocate who never attacked his opponent directly, using charm and humor to win everyone over.
Sam knew Whit growing up as a generous and playful grandfather who loved his time with his seven grandchildren. One of Sam’s fondest memories of him came from the day Sam was admitted to practice in the Southern District of New York. He asked Whit to move his admission. When they arrived at Foley Square they found that Judge Charles Brieant was presiding over admissions. Judge Brieant invited Whit to speak to the newly admitted lawyers. Whit welcomed the new lawyers and talked about Judge Learned Hand’s 50 years on the district court. The celebration of Judge Hand’s 50 years on the bench included a public event at the courthouse followed by a small dinner at the Century Club. Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justices Felix Frankfurter and John Marshall Harlan II attended, along with the Attorney General. Charles C. Burlingham, a leading lawyer in New York who was just about to turn 101, attended the dinner and lamented that he had not met anyone new. Sadly, Whit’s appearance before Judge Brieant was his last court appearance, as he died two months later.
Sam believes that Whit would thrive in today’s changed profession because he stood for integrity, service to clients, absolute candor to the court, public service, and the strength and collegiality of the organized bar. He believes Whit would applaud the work of the Federal Bar Council.