SWBTS Legacy: John Seelig
As vice president for public affairs, John Seelig served Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with faith and grace for three decades. In leading the seminary to greatness over the years, many men contributed through their teaching, and many through their preaching. But Seelig led Southwestern Seminary to grow exponentially through his gift of amassing vast support from the local community and beyond.
“Those in development work outside the seminary family know Dr. Seelig as the dean of Southern Baptist fundraisers,” former Southwestern Seminary president Russell Dilday said of Seelig in 1990.
But though much of his historical significance lies in his tenacity and skill as a seminary vice president, for him, the impact he had on individual lives remained the most significant aspect of his work.
Part of Seelig’s responsibilities entailed informing students they would receive scholarships, and he often called them personally to share the news. On one of these phone calls, the wife of a student told Seelig that, due to recently having to quit her job because of complications with her pregnancy, the scholarship was a direct answer to their prayers.
“That’s the joy of this job,” he reflected. “This is what it’s all about.”
John Earl Seelig was born in Fredericksburg in 1924. After attending high school there, he did undergraduate studies at Hardin-Simmons University, where he was a positive and energetic student and yearbook editor, and he earned a Bachelor of Science degree. In 1947, he married Virginia Garrett, daughter of the late congressman Clyde Garrett.
Virginia Seelig was an accomplished vocalist known for her stirring Christian performances. Together, the Seeligs were two untiring voices for Christ—hers to praise God in song, his to spread word of the work being done here for God.
In 1949, Seelig completed a Master of Religious Education degree at Southwestern Seminary, and later received a Doctor of Humanities degree at Hardin-Simmons. He served in area churches and was involved in denominational work until he was hired by then-president Robert Naylor as Southwestern Seminary’s vice president for public affairs in 1960. Working in the areas of public relations, fundraising, and alumni affairs, his responsibilities included overseeing all the school’s publications (including the Southwestern News magazine), maintaining alumni files, hosting campus visitors, representing the school at conventions, and “all school mimeographing.”
During Seelig’s tenure, Southwestern Seminary experienced exponential growth. Over his 30 years here, as enrollment doubled, his role grew. He was part of administrative teams that oversaw growth in the seminary endowment from $4.4 million to $46.9 million, budget increases from $1.4 million to $18.5 million, and an increase in assets from $13.6 million to more than $100 million. Physically, the campus added eight buildings.
Still, though, Seelig maintained his focus on people. He initiated the President’s Club, the Founders’ Circle, the Distinguished Alumni Awards, and the B.H. Carroll Awards. He also restructured the Advisory Council. Though these certainly aimed at strengthening ties with ministry partners and alumni, they also served to honor the individuals who supported the seminary.
“You could not overstate the contribution of John Seelig to the seminary,” Naylor said upon Seelig’s retirement in 1990. “His sense of personal debt and his creative mind have combined to make up one of the most prolific contributions in the life of this institution.”
Dilday added, “Everyone who has any awareness of Southwestern Seminary over the past 30 years knows of the valuable contributions Dr. Seelig has made.”
After leaving the seminary, Seelig’s passion and focus remained bringing the Word of God to individuals. The Seeligs spent a year in Hawaii serving the Hawaii Baptist Convention; then, after their return to Texas, they became active members of Southcliff Baptist Church. Friends describe Seelig as a loving family man who had a gift for making friends and enjoyed teaching Sunday School at Travis Avenue Baptist Church and Southcliff for a combined 48 years.
Tony Wilford, a member of Southcliff Baptist Church, recalls Seelig’s impact on Sunday School groups and his ability to touch the lives of individuals: “I had the privilege of getting to know Dr. Seelig at Southcliff Baptist Church, where he was the Sunday School teacher for my in-laws, Don and Judy Weeks. He was a wonderful man and such an encouragement to me through the years.”
For 64 years, Virginia was by her husband’s side in his walk with Christ. A voice professor at Southwestern Seminary for 27 years, she was an accomplished contralto soloist with performances ranging from opera and musical theater to oratorios and recitals, to singing with several Billy Graham crusades. She was soloist in a performance of Handel’s Messiah presented for the King and Queen of Jordan in the Royal Cultural Palace in Amman. In 1988, the seminary’s School of Church Music presented her with the Distinguished Service Award.
In honor of the couple’s combined 57 years of service for Southwestern Seminary, in 2008, the board of trustees named a room in the Robert E. Naylor Student Center the John and Virginia Seelig Banquet Room. That year, the seminary also honored the Seeligs with the L.R. Scarborough Award.
After Seelig’s death this past January, many Southwestern Seminary alumni reflected positively on his decades of service. Gerald Hodges, a 1990 Master of Divinity graduate, typified the sentiment: “In 1987, John befriended me and my family when I was a new student at SWBTS. My wife and I both worked in the Registrar’s office, where we met Dr. Seelig. He took me to my first rodeo (I am from North Carolina), bought me my first pair of cowboy boots (which I still have), and met me for breakfast regularly, where he offered me great encouragement. I am thankful for his life and love.”