YORK, Maine — Tom Seavey, a pioneer in the field of child-centered educational publishing and a longtime York resident, was remembered this week for his dry Maine wit, his voracious interest in literature and as an innovative and highly regarded publisher.
Seavey, 72, who lived in a lovingly restored home on the Cape Neddick River for more than 30 years, died on Christmas Day.
Seavey, along with partner John Watson, launched a U.S. office of the well-known British education publisher Heinemann in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the 1970s and were joined by his wife, Philippa Stratton, a Brit by birth, in 1980.
“Our challenge was that we were a teeny tiny publisher in a huge market in which behemoths of school and college publishers reigned,” said Stratton. “We couldn’t — and frankly didn’t want — to compete with them so we had to find a niche.”
Stratton said the English as a Second Language movement was just getting underway at the time, as was the “whole language” approach to teaching. Stratton said it became clear to her and Seavey that these classroom-based approaches required professional books for classroom teachers.
“Really, those professional books didn’t exist before we started publishing them,” she said. Further, she said, these books championed a child-centered approach to learning, as opposed to the more authoritarian teacher approach.
Among the authors the couple found and published are some very well-known names in the education field: University of New Hampshire professor Don Graves, author of the book “Writing: Teachers and Children at Work”; Nancie Atwell, a Maine educator who was awarded a $1 million Global Teaching Award in 2015; and Lucy Calkins, whose method for the teaching of writing is commonly used in public schools.
Lori Lampert, sales operations manager at Heinemann, said Seavey was a wonderful boss and, together, he and his wife “formed this culture that continued on through the years to this day: respect for employees, a sense that everyone is on the same mission, open communication, no closed doors, collaboration. It was almost like a family atmosphere.”
In 1993, the couple left Heinemann and started a new publishing house, Stenhouse — initially in York and then in Portland. Stenhouse continued the tradition of publishing professional educational books, and is a subsidiary of Highlights for Children of Columbus, Ohio.
“Tom’s approach to publishing combined taste, independence, curiosity and, often, a nontraditional 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.”
Meanwhile, said Stratton, at home in Cape Neddick where the couple moved in 1985, Seavey made use of his woodworking and carpentry skills to transform what had been a fixer-upper. “This house needed so much work, we wouldn’t have bought it if he didn’t have the skills,” she said.
She said he made beautiful furniture, including a “lovely dining room table” for their daughter, Eliza Seavey, nurse manager of Harbour Women’s Health in Portsmouth, her wife, Jamie Stone, and their two children.
But it was his sense of humor that Stratton said most people recall when they think of her husband.
“He was very funny. He had a quirky, dry sense of humor,” she said.
Neighbor Linda Scotland agreed, saying, “he was one of the funniest people you would ever meet. If I heard my husband guffawing out in the yard, I knew he was talking to Tom,” she said.
The two couples share a road and right of way, a situation that under previous owners “was a cause for war. But we got along beautifully. They’re so easy going and respectful,” said Scotland.
The founder of the Cape Neddick River Association, Scotland said Seavey and Stratton were steadfast members. An osprey stand in the river by the Cape Neddick Bridge is actually on the Seavey/Stratton property. “They were very good about helping us find a spot, and Tom got all the permits. He was very environmentally aware.”
Seavey was also a longtime volunteer at the Florence House women’s shelter in Portland. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Preble Street ( preblestreet.org), the umbrella organization for the Florence House.
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