Donald Seawell, founder of DCPA, dies at 103

Donald R. Seawell, the founder and chairman emeritus of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, died Wednesday. He was 103. 9NEWS at 9 p.m. 09/30/15.

DENVER – Donald R. Seawell, the founder and chairman emeritus of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, died Wednesday. He was 103.

Throughout his long and remarkable career, he has been at the Securities and Exchange Commission, worked directly under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, practiced as a theatrical attorney, been chairman and publisher of the Denver Post and won a Tony award as a theatrical producer.

"Denver lost a giant," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock tweeted. "Donald Seawell's love of arts influenced many, including myself."

A native of North Carolina and graduate of the University of North Carolina, Seawell studied law and came to Washington D.C. as an early staff member of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

He went to the War Department and the Department of Justice at the outbreak of World War II, serving as director of the Anti-Subversion Division of the Justice Department and executive secretary of the Combined American and British Intelligence Organizations.

Seawell served on the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force in 1943, ultimately reporting to General Eisenhower.

As part of SHAEF, he participated in planning for D-Day, where he worked with the British on diversionary tactics that led the Germans to believe the invasion would happen at Pas de Calais instead of Normandy.

Later, Seawell entered into the private practice of law in New York – where his work increasingly involved theatre.

He was the first to bring the Royal Shakespeare Company to America, directing and presenting the RSC production of the Hollow Crown on Broadway and on tour in 1962.

Helen G. Bonfils, principal owner of the Denver Post, was Seawell's partner in many Broadway shows and other ventures. She asked him to become the attorney for both her and the Denver Post.

In 1966, Seawell became president and CEO of the Post, and it was not long before he became chairman and publisher of the newspaper and a full-time resident of Denver.

Looking at the old Auditorium Theatre and its surrounding four blocks in downtown Denver one day, Seawell came up with an idea for a performing arts center that would utilize some of the existing buildings.

Securing approval from his fellow trustees of the Helen G. Bonfils Foundation later that day, he formed the nonprofit Denver Center for the Performing Arts to offer locally-produced theatre and Broadway tours to Denver audiences.

The Denver Performing Arts Complex is now home to 10 performance venues that feature ballet, symphony, opera, theatre and musicals.

While it no longer manages the majority of the Arts Complex, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts has become the largest nonprofit theatre organization in the nation, presenting theatre, cabaret, musicals and innovative multimedia plays.

Seawell oversaw such landmark events as the pre-Broadway debut of Disney's the Little Mermaid, the national tour launches of Sunset Boulevard and Disney's the Lion King, the world premiere productions of Quilters, the Laramie Project and the landmark 10-part production of Tantalus during his tenure as DCPA chairman.

In 2004, he was recognized for his contributions to the city of Denver with a Mayor's award, and in 2006, he was honored with induction into Broadway's Theater Hall of Fame.

Seawell stepped down as full-time chairman of the DCPA in 2007, but he continued to actively serve as chairman emeritus of the Helen G. Bonfils Foundation and the DCPA until his death.

Seawell married actor Eugenia Rawls in 1941. She passed away in 2000.

He is survived by their children, Brockman Seawell of New York City and Brook Ashley of Santa Barbara, California, a granddaughter Brett Wilbur of Carmel, California and two great-grandchildren.

"Farewell, Donald Seawell. You were one of a kind," Gov. John Hickenlooper tweeted Wednesday night. "Thank you for all you did for the Denver community. Consider this a standing ovation."

(© 2015 KUSA)


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