The turfcare profession, and indeed the whole of the tennis world, were saddened to learn of the death of Eddie Seaward who passed away over the weekend.
Eddie (75) was Head Groundsman at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) for 22 years having succeeded Jim Thorn in 1990, joining from the Aldermaston Sports Complex where he had been head groundsman for 11 years. He was at the helm during probably the biggest period of development at AELTC which saw the Centre Court covered with a roof in 2009.
Paying tribute today, Neil Stubley, who took over from Eddie in in 2012, and who worked as part of his team for many years says, “Eddie’s contribution to constantly maintaining and improving the surfaces at Wimbledon during a period when the pace of the game and the demands of players changed enormously, also coincided with the considerable research he headed in collaboration with the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) to find grasses and maintenance regimes required for covered courts."
It was indeed fitting that in the year of his retirement, the AELTC hosted both the annual Championships and the 2012 Olympic tennis. A huge logistical challenge with the first round of the Olympic tournament taking place just 20 days after Mens Finals day. That year, Neil took charge of the courts for the Championships whilst Eddie focussed on the 12 courts to be used for the Olympics.
As soon as the Championship trophies had been handed over, Eddie and team started planting pre-germinated grass seeds to restore the worn courts to a new and fresh playing surface. He had spent several years experimenting with new techniques in order to meet the very tight timeline.
It said much for the skills, professionalism and collaboration within the turfcare industry that similar challenges were met and conquered in 2012. Over at another iconic sporting venue, Lords’, Mick Hunt had just over two weeks to turn cricket’s HQ from an archery arena to a Test Match venue for the South Africa test.
Eddie Seaward never liked the limelight, never sought to take credit. To him it was always about teamwork. But he was more than willing to pass on his experiences, thoughts and opinions about all things ‘turfcare’ to others in the industry, both experienced professionals and newcomers.
In a lovely article in Turf Professional in 2007, the late Mike Beardall profiled a Day in the Life of.. with Eddie. It was the year when the AELTC looked like a building site in preparation for the installation of the Centre Court roof. In the middle of the pre-Championship mayhem, the phone rings, “That was a request from a tennis club in Slough to help them with improving court conditions,” says Eddie. “I may be able to help over the phone, but at other times I’d go over and see them”.
Eddie pictured with the Wimbledon grounds staff for a 2007 Turf Professional feature - including on the left, current Head of Courts and Horticulture, AELTC, Neil Stubley
There is also close camaraderie with other grounds professionals. The phone rings again, “It was Steve Welch over at Wembley. I rang him ahead of the Cup Final, and he’s returned the call to wish me luck with the Fortnight. When you are running a major event, you appreciate the support of colleagues,” he said.
Eddie never appeared to let things faze him. What probably helped was that he often walked the three miles to work from his home in Raynes Park. “Helps me clear the mind, sort out the problems.”
For many years, Eddie was a real stalwart of the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG). A former general secretary, chairman of the Education Committee and key member of the London South West branch.
He had been married to Chris, a lifelong tennis fan, for almost 40 years. She had supported him during his career, acting as IOG branch secretary for a time. Since his retirement, Eddie suffered from the onset of dementia and had been in a home for a year.
Everyone who came into contact with Eddie will have learned something. His easy manner, quiet sense of humour, steeliness and never failing willingness to impart his deep knowledge of the turfcare industry will have helped inspire and influence so many people.
The word ‘legend’ is often misused, but not in Eddie’s case. His achievements obviously speak for themselves, but there was more, much more. Every sector of life needs its ‘standard-bearers’, and in Eddie Seaward, the turfcare profession had one of the finest and most respected ambassadors – and his influences will live long.