To say that San Francisco resident Deborah Seymour, who passed away in January at the age of 83, had a lifelong relationship with the American Red Cross, is not even a small exaggeration. In her case, says friend and colleague Harold Brooks, it was completely true.
"Deedee would tell people that she first became a Red Cross volunteer at the age of 7," says Brooks, the organization's senior vice president of International Operations. "As the story goes, her early involvement was through her mother, who was a volunteer first-aid instructor. Deedee used to laugh as she told us that she was the real-life dummy that her mom used when she was showing people how to do CPR."
Little did her mother know that she was igniting a Red Cross spark in her little daughter that would burn brightly for the rest of Seymour's life.
An internationally respected volunteer, humanitarian, and philanthropist, Seymour and her late husband Boyd generously supported a number of programs, activities, and causes. But Deborah Seymour's most passionate support, which spanned seven decades, was reserved for the American Red Cross.
"She did virtually everything for our organization," says Brooks, who worked closely with Seymour during his decades at the helm of the Red Cross's Northern California Coastal Region and at national headquarters. "She was the chair of the Chapter Board of Directors in San Francisco in the mid-1980s; was on the Western Operations Advisory Council; and served on the Regional Board of Governors, the National Board of Governors, and the Governing Board of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies [IFRC]."
Her obituary beautifully describes the qualities that Seymour brought to these many Red Cross roles: "In all of these capacities, Deedee's skills at diplomacy, strategic planning, and fundraising, and her practical counsel won her friends and admirers from around the globe."
Mary Lou Chapman, both friend and admirer, observed Seymour's efforts for many years on behalf of the Red Cross. "She was a very good administrator, level-headed, and a very gracious person," Chapman says.
Because Chapman worked in Youth Services for the Red Cross, she and Seymour rarely collaborated on projects. But Chapman, who would occasionally play tennis with Seymour, saw enough of Seymour's work to know how valuable she was to the organization.
"Some people volunteer for an organization, but they don't really have that much time or that much interest," Chapman says. "That was not the case with Deedee. She really took her work for the Red Cross to heart — and in the process, made a huge impact."
In fact, it was Seymour's commitment — paired with a tremendous skill set — that made people regularly seek her out when an "especially tough task" needed doing, Brooks says.
In 1975, for example, after the fall of Saigon, Seymour organized more than 3,000 volunteers in 48 hours to meet the Operation Baby Lift planes as orphaned children arrived in the U.S.
And later, when the decision was made to have 13 Bay Area chapters merge into one, Seymour was the volunteer leader who navigated the choppy chapter waters to make it happen, Brooks says. "She was honest and direct with everyone involved in that, and her work led to the creation of arguably the best Red Cross chapter in the best Red Cross region in the country."
Seymour also made a tremendous difference at the international level, playing an important role in the effort that resulted in Israel finally being admitted as a member of the IFRC in 2006 after 50 years of failed attempts.
"Deedee’s generosity of time, talent, and treasure is immeasurable," Brooks says. "She was known and respected by so many people, including presidents of the United States and world leaders around the globe. Her impact on the Red Cross went far beyond her very generous donations."
"Deedee Seymour," Brooks adds, "was a very serious and very elegant woman who brought all kinds of credibility to this great organization."
Deborah Seymour's family has indicated that people wishing to honor her memory may do so by donating to the Red Cross or to another humanitarian organization of their choice.
Deborah Seymour obituary
Ways to Donate to the American Red Cross:
Photo caption: Deedee Seymour presents an award to the president of the Somali Red Crescent Society for the courageous work carried out by its volunteers under very dangerous conditions.