Martha O’Brien Seaman, dedicated citizen of greater Lansing and of Michigan, devoted wife and mother, and loyal friend to a remarkably wide group, died Wednesday, May 11, 2011 after an illness of several months. As her friend Jack Green wrote years ago, “Martha is both idealistic and practical, intuitive and intellectual, sensible and gentle. It would be hard not to spend an hour with Martha without feeling her love for people and her ability to uplift them.”
Martha was born December 4, 1915, in Syracuse, New York to Beatrice M. and Thomas T. O’Brien. The family moved to Lansing in 1918, when her father became Assistant Sales Manager for Oldsmobile.
In 1937, Martha married John N. Seaman. A vibrant couple, they helped to build many of Lansing’s civic and cultural organizations and to develop its human service agencies, even as they raised four children and nurtured their many friends. In her civic work, Martha’s pattern was to begin work at the local level, through neighborhood and civic community activities, especially those concerned with human welfare. She was President of the Lansing Junior League and worked on their Child Guidance Center, and she served on the boards of the Lansing mental Health Center, the Lansing Symphony, the East Lansing Downtown Development Committee and the Urban League. Her talents, sensitivity, and intelligence ultimately led to broader involvement, including service on the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the Michigan United Fund, and on the boards of the Michigan Welfare League and the Metropolitan Opera Outstate Committee. In recognition of her work, she received the 1963 Human Relations Award from B’nai B’rith, and in 1969 she was honored by the Michigan Academy of Volunteer Leadership with a Certificate of Honor presented by Governor Milliken. Martha gained her love of community and her dedication to civic service from her father. He was devoted to Lansing and was elected mayor of the city in 1941.
From her mother, Martha gained a strong faith. She was active in the Episcopal Church, first at St. Paul’s in Lansing then as one of the first members of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, where she was the first woman to serve on an Episcopal Vestry in Michigan. She also served on the local Council of Churches, the Christian Life and Work Committee of the Michigan Council of Churches, and the Diocesan Christian Social Relations Committee of the Episcopal Church.
After their children were grown, John and Martha had the opportunity to travel.
They enjoyed especially the visual arts and the architecture of both Europe and Mexico, and they encouraged their children and grandchildren to learn about the world through study and travel. Their home was filled with art and books and they opened it not only to friends but also to visiting musicians who came to perform at MSU. It was a warm and welcoming place, filled with conversation and humanity, where the spirit of charity was ever present.
Martha was preceded in death by her husband John in 2002, her sister Beatrice Herrmann Richards, her brothers William S. O’Brien and Thomas H. O’Brien, her brother-in-law Robert E. Seaman and sisters-in-law Nancy F. O’Brien and Corrintha K. Seaman.
Surviving are two daughters, Elizabeth (Chica) Seaman Tenney (Harry) of Charlottesville, VA, and Martha Seaman McKee of East Lansing; two sons, William E. Seaman (Maxine) of Tiburon, CA, and John N. Seaman, Jr. (Susan) of Cedar, MI; four grandchildren, Elizabeth T. Jarvis (Michael) of Falls Church VA, John M. Tenney (Hélène) of Charlottesville, VA, Christopher B. Seaman (Jennifer) of Sacramento, CA, and Michael B. Seaman (Jenna) of San Francisco, CA; five great-grandchildren, Michael O. Jarvis, Clara E. Jarvis, Avery G. Seaman, Ian M. Tenney, and Maggie E. L. Tenney; and Martha’s beloved nieces and nephews.
Funeral Services will be held Friday, May 20 at 10:00 AM at All Saints Episcopal Church, 800 Abbot Rd., East Lansing, MI, followed by interment at Evergreen Cemetery, 1709 E. Mount Hope Ave., Lansing, MI. Visitations will be on Thursday, May 19 at 2:00 – 4:00 and 6:00 – 8:00 PM at the Estes-Leadley Greater Lansing Chapel, 325 West Washtenaw St., Lansing, MI.
Memorial gifts may be directed to All Saints Episcopal Church, 800 Abbot Rd., East Lansing, MI 48823, or to the Lansing Symphony, 501 S. Capitol Ave., Suite 400, Lansing, MI 48933