My name is Margaret Story Bardwell and I am Sonny Seiler’s oldest grandchild. On behalf of his four children, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild, I am honored to share some words about him. In his professional career, Poppie mentored countless young lawyers and he was a sincere friend to all. Many people have shared with me over the past several weeks how Poppie changed their lives. His obituary speaks for itself with accomplishments a mile long, but above all he was a devout Christian, a faithful husband, a proud father and grandfather with many, many side gigs.
When Poppie accepted the University of Georgia Alumnae Family of the year award he opened his acceptance speech lamenting that his bride was not present. “Everything I am, is because of her.” Little did he know that Cecelia Gunn, a Chi Omega from Columbus Georgia, and their meeting on campus would forever change his life. They would go on to have four children who truly embody the best qualities of each of them.
Aunt Swann – Poppie loved her companionship, curried fruit at Christmas and pew mate every Sunday at church. She often followed closely in his footsteps, assuming many of the same leadership roles over the years as he beamed with pride. She was his personal chauffeur taking him to and from his endless commitments as well as his travel partner, together they saw the world.
Uncle Charles, “brother” as Poppie called him – his son who has dedicated so much of his life to continuing his legacy – with countless trips to Athens learning the trade until eventually making it his own. Poppie loved his fishing partner and his handy skills around the house, the dock, and Tybee.
Aunt Bessie – Poppie, among others in the family, relied on her keen sense of fashion, she was his personal shopper for all gifts – and if you know how cheap he was, you know that was a daunting task! He loved her hosting skills at the holidays. He relied on her organizational and editing skills and in his later years her willingness to drop everything to come buy yet another chair or mattress because the one purchased last month just wasn’t quite right.
And finally, his baby Sara, my mother. “The GOAT” – she was his numbers girl – meticulously sending home her receipts throughout college reflecting her perfectly balanced checkbook despite reportedly “cheesecaking him to death” during one infamous summer at the Golf Club when she indulged in the costly sweet treat … daily. He loved her homemade spaghetti and salad with the perfect olive oil and lemon juice dressing for his Saturday dinners in Athens.
His children would go on to marry equally as kind, generous, and caring spouses. It’s not easy to step into a family as dynamic as this one. My aunt Wendy graciously assumed the role long held by Grannie, caring for the dogs, often hearing more advice than she needed from Poppie! Uncle Shannon, ever the dutiful son in law with the patience of Job always making sure our family gatherings were enjoyed by all with his perfectly roasted oysters. And my dad, Todd, with his weekly, daily, hourly phone calls from Poppie, “Young Todd, what do you hear from Athens?” They talked bulldogs while daddy cared for him through his final days.
There are so many things Poppie loved – a Mayflower breakfast on a fall morning in Athens, olives – with or without the accompanying martini, raw oysters off a folding aluminum table in the Tybee yard, a halftime Budweiser under the Sanford Stadium bridge with the radio report blaring, a cup of HOT soup after an evening broadway show in New York City, a drop in to his sunroom from announced visitors, the triple clank of the slot machine when another grandchild landed on lemon sparing him his small fortune in nickels jeering to us “dint do it!,” an egg salad sandwich on 2nd green at Augusta National, a packed Georgia Center hotel room, a tiny silver bulldog on a navy blue blazer lapel, a watchful Greek eye carefully placed throughout the home for good luck, ice cold home pickled onions and cucumbers from his garden, a Santa hat atop a white english bulldog portrait over the fire at Christmas, and trips back and forth to see his grandchildren graduate from high school, college and graduate school.
My same words from Grannie’s funeral capture the idyllic childhood we all had and the role our grandparents played in that. “For us Seiler grandchildren, Christmas will always mean breakfast casserole, handmade needlepoint stockings, added pearls to your strand and sterling silver ornaments. Grits will always be yellow, books will always be abundant, refrigerators will be full of Cocolas and hallways will always have chiming clocks. Station wagons will always be red, September will always mean football, Sanford aisles will always be for cheering, Tybee will always mean porch feet, and yards will always have bulldogs.”
For days, I wasn’t sure how to end this speech. I wanted to end with something that embodied Poppie’s spirit, work ethic and desire to do everything life had to offer – not for recognition, but to leave the world better than he found it. It should come as no surprise that Poppie did the work for me … in 2005 I was gifted one of his favorite books, “The Best Loved Poems of the American People.” In the inscription he told me he had first read the book over 50 years ago and it had been a great source of entertainment and inspiration to him over the years, memorizing several. He checked many of his favorites in the index in the back but specifically listed in writing the poem titled The Bridge Builder by Will Allen Dromgoole.
An old man, going on a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim –
That sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when he reached the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting strength in building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm deep and wide,
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head.
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”
If you’ve ever been around my family, you know that all of our toasts are “to the dawgs.” It doesn’t matter if it’s your graduation, wedding, anniversary … – it’s always “to the dawgs.” But something tells me no one would be opposed to a permanent change. So join us, next time you raise a glass, “To Sonny, our Poppie … and to his dawgs.”