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Founder of Center for the Performing Arts dies

Posted at 4:03 PM, Oct 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-01 18:03:35-04

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

"Donald Seawell was a visionary whose dreams for the city of Denver, the state of Colorado and indeed the world will outlive generations to come,” said DCPA President & CEO Scott Shiller. “Mr. Seawell’s reputation as an industry leader inspired the creation of countless other performing arts centers throughout the country. Denver is the No. 1 arts city in the country because of the innovative path Mr. Seawell set us on 37 years ago. We will continue to honor his legacy in all we do.” 

Gov. John Hickenlooper tweeted the following once he got the news of his passing: 

Seawell, a native of North Carolina studied law and came to Washington, DC as an early staff member of the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

He became involved with theatrical presentation, on Broadway and in London, producing or co-producing A Thurber Carnival, Noel Coward’s Sail Away, The Affair, The Beast in Me, Slow Dance on the Killing Ground and dozens more Lunt/Fontanne hits and other shows in addition to television and motion picture productions, said director of creative services and public affairs spokeswoman Suzanne Yoe. 

He was first to bring the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) to America. In 1962, he directed and presented the RSC production of The Hollow Crown on Broadway and on tour and, in 1964, to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th Anniversary, he imported the RSC’s King Lear and The Comedy of Errors, which opened the New York State Theatre.

He became President and CEO of The Denver Post in 1966. It was not long before he became Chairman and Publisher of The Post and a full-time resident of Denver, said Yoe. 

Finding himself at the crossroads of 14th and Curtis streets in downtown Denver one day, looking at the old Auditorium Theatre (built in 1908) and the surrounding four blocks, Seawell had an idea for a performing arts center that could utilize some of the existing buildings, said Yoe. Before the day was out, he had secured the approval of his fellow trustees of the Helen G. Bonfils Foundation to form the not-for-profit Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA), she added.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock delivered the following statement after learning of Seawell's death:

“Denver has lost a giant with the passing of Donald Seawell. He was an inspiration and a great motivator whose passion for the arts influenced so many, including myself. He instilled in all of us the belief that our city could achieve greatness if we were willing to take risks. Donald was a rare and outstanding civic champion who helped set Denver on the path we currently walk today, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for that bold vision. There is no question that his legacy and impact on our city will be felt for decades to come.”

Seawell stepped down as full-time Chairman of the DCPA in 2007 to be succeeded by Daniel L. Ritchie. He continued to actively serve as Chairman Emeritus of the Helen G. Bonfils Foundation, the DCPA and ANTA until his death.

Seawell married actor Eugenia Rawls in 1941. She passed away in 2000. Seawell is survived by their children, Brockman Seawell of New York City and Brook Ashley of Santa Barbara, CA, a granddaughter Brett Wilbur of Carmel, CA, and two great-grandchildren.

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