Seward a study in success

By Matt Hill

   Like a man who is successful climbing Mount Everest, Johnson City resident John Seward has kept reaching toward new heights during his life.
   The former collegiate All-American on the Duke basketball team has been a success in just about everything he has done.
   Seward has been active in the community and in business for many years since moving to Johnson City.
   Seward grew up in Newport News, Va., and was impressive enough during a trip to Durham in high school to earn him a college scholarship.
   "Very fortunately, we had a real good basketball team in high school," Seward said. "Our coach there always liked to play two or three college freshman teams, so we played at Duke. Duke saw me play in Durham, and they offered me a scholarship."
   "They offered four boys from Durham who had won the national championship. They had won 75 games in a row. It was the four Durham boys and me that were recruited in 1940. They didn't have any money to go out and recruit, if they saw somebody they liked then they took him."
   Seward played on the freshman team his first year, then played two years on the varsity before heading off to serve in World War II. Seward then came back to Duke to play in 1946 and 1947. Seward was an All-Southern Conference selection three times, and was named to the All-American team in 1947.
   Seward had to earn his respect early on in his career being the out of town guy.
   "If there was a Durham boy open and I was open, I didn't get the ball," Seward said. "The Durham boy did. I got them all in the locker room and said 'I'm here on a scholarship just like you. If I don't get the ball when I'm open, somebody is going to have to front me because I'm going to come after you.' I just decided I better say that."
   Seward, who averaged 13.5 points per game during his career and was known for his superb ball handling, felt honored to be named an All-American.
   "It was great to be recognized," Seward said.
   But Seward did a lot of things at Duke besides playing basketball, and the experience was very rewarding.
   "I became involved in a lot of things," Seward said. "I was president of the junior class. I was president of the student body my senior year. I was an Omicron Delta Kappa, which is a national leadership fraternity. I was a Sigma Chi. I was the runner-up to the Balfour award, I was the second best Sigma Chi in the United States. I finished Duke with a degree in business.
   Seward says being a collegiate athlete back in those days was a lot different than being one today.
   "We all had to work in the dining halls," Seward said. "I don't care how good you were or whether you were first string or third string, everybody had to work in the dining halls. They talk about the people today having to spend so much time involved in sports, we only spent an hour-and-a-half a day practicing, and we had to spend four-and-a-half hours a day in the dining halls.
   As far as Seward's days a Duke basketball player, he felt like there were some very memorable experiences.
   "I played in Madison Square Garden," Seward said. "We played N.Y.U, and we won one and lost one. I played Temple in Convention Hall. I played Penn at the Palestra, and that's voted one the outstanding places you'll ever go to. I had some great experiences. Duke was a wonderful experience for me.
   Duke is known today as one of the toughest schools in the country academically, and Seward says it was no exception back then.
   "The academics were tough," Seward said. "They didn't have an SAT score or an ACT score, you had to have a high school diploma, and a C average.
   Duke was tough in the fact that if there was a question of whether you took the lab or go to practice, you had to take the lab first. I'm proud to have gone there. It's just great to graduate from a school academically like Duke.
   "I'm disturbed with college athletics right now. They don't make a student study. After all, how many of them go on to the pros. A college education is priceless. It's a shame when the college president gets $250,000 a year, and a college coach gets over a million. Something is wrong. The tail is wagging the dog.
   Seward believes there are a lot of differences between the Duke program on the 1940's, and the national power the Blue Devils are today.
   "They have more money to go out and recruit," Seward said. "They didn't have a coach that was assigned to recruiting. They didn't have a person that was the academic advisor."
   In-between his stints at Duke, Seward served in the 103rd Infantry Division in the Army.
   In 1944, Seward was taken in by the Germans as a prisoner of war.
   "I was captured near Strasburg, France," Seward said. "I was transferred to Bardorb, about 50 kilometers northeast of Frankfort, Germany. I was in the prison camps. I was in the prison camp about three-and-a-half months. We had a bowl of soup about 10 O' Clock in the morning consisting of flour water and potato peelings, and about 5' O' Clock in the afternoon we had a piece of black bread. That's all we had to eat."
   He was liberated from the prison camp on April 2, 1945. Seward definitely welcomed that after being put in such tough conditions.
   "It was in the mountains," Seward said. "It was very cold and you slept in foxholes. I made a promise after I got out of the prison camp, that I would never sleep on the ground again, and I would never miss another meal. And to this day I haven't."
   When Seward went back to Duke after participating in the war, he married Matilda Paty of Elizabethton. Seward then went to work for Paty's father after graduation, and eventually became president of Paty Lumber Company, Johnson City.
   When Seward arrived in Johnson City, he became very active in the community. He has been on several business' board of directors, and has won awards for giving back to the community.
   "Mr. Paty told me something that I always remembered," Seward said. "He said you've got to get involved in your community other than just business. You've got to get involved in the Chamber of Commerce, you've got to give something back. You just can't take everything out of the community, you've got to give it back.
   One of Seward's greatest achievements was being involved in the campaign to build a Cancer treatment facility at Johnson City Medical Center. The facility was named after his son, Steve Seward.
   Seward has been active in education, as he was a member of the Johnson City board of Education for 18 years.
   Seward also has been very active in ETSU's Pirate Club and other activities at East Tennessee State,
   "I've always supported athletics," Seward said. "I had a scholarship out here in honor of the son that we lost. I've always supported with my time and money."
   Seward was elected to Northeast Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.
   Seward may have accomplished a lot on the basketball court, but it's his giving spirit that will be Seward's legacy.
   "We've been very active in supporting the community," Seward said.