Brigadier General William T. Seawell

By: Brett Threlkeld
On: 05/26/2005
Our condolences to the Seawell family. From the New York Times May 24, 2005....

Brig. Gen. William Thomas Seawell, who commanded bombers in World War II and the cadet corps at the Air Force Academy and led Pan American World Airways, died on Friday at home in Pine Bluff, Ark., his birthplace. He was 87.

The apparent cause was a heart attack, his family said.

General Seawell (pronounced SOO-uhl) was a 1941 graduate of West Point and received a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1949. His 22-year military career began in World War II with the Army Air Corps in Europe.

He led a bomber squadron and then the 401st Bombardment Group, earning a Silver Star; the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak-leaf clusters; the Air Medal, also with three oak-leaf clusters; and the Croix de Guerre, with palm, from France. After more postwar air commands, he was named military assistant to the secretary of the Air Force in 1958.

His last posting, from 1961 to 1963, was as commandant of cadets at the Air Force Academy. He then worked briefly for the Air Transport Association as vice president for operations and engineering.

In 1965 he moved to New York as senior vice president for operations at American Airlines and, after that, as president of Rolls-Royce Aero Engines, an American subsidiary of Rolls-Royce Ltd. of Britain. Pan Am recruited him in 1971 as its president and chief operating officer, under Najeeb E. Halaby, then the chairman and chief executive.

At the time, airlines were in a slump and Pan Am, despite its illustrious history, stood out as one of the most troubled. As the crisis mounted, the Pan Am board forced Mr. Halaby out in 1972 and made General Seawell chairman and chief executive.

Mr. Halaby had championed the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, but the cost of its introduction was compounded by a recession, increased competition and the prospects of higher fuel costs. General Seawell sought to halt the airline's economic decline, but by 1980 its operating loss for the year was $127 million, the worst in its history to that point, with worse to come.

In mid-1981, he announced his retirement. He was succeeded by C. Edward Acker. In the years that followed, Pan Am went into its final decline, its fate sealed with the sale of many of the overseas routes that made it famous. It went out of business in 1991.

General Seawell is survived by his wife of 63 years, Judith Alexander Seawell; a son, A. Brooke Seawell of Menlo Park, Calif.; a daughter, Anne S. Robinson of Pine Bluff; and four grandsons.