Elmer T. Seay Jr. remembered for his civic, social activism

George Copeland Jr. | 2/15/2024, 6 p.m.
Elmer T. Seay Jr. known for his community activism, social work and talents as an artist died Thursday, Jan. 25, ...
Mr. Seay

Elmer T. Seay Jr. known for his community activism, social work and talents as an artist died Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. He was 90 years old.

Mr. Seay was born on May 17, 1933, in Richmond. He was the second of five children born to his parents, Elmer Taylor Sr. and Maria Seay.

Mr. Seay graduated from Richmond’s Armstrong High School in 1952, and later earned a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University and a master’s degree from Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University).

After graduating from Virginia Union, Mr. Seay enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a military policeman. Upon completing his military service, he returned to Richmond to pursue his career. It was during this time that he met his future bride, Shirley Mae Hairston. Mr. Seay and Miss Hairston exchanged vows on June 30, 1962.

Civil service defined much of Mr. Seay’s life, from his time in the military to his career with the City of Richmond Department of Social Services. He co-founded the Richmond chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW) in 1971, alongside lifelong friends Clinton Strane, former Richmond City Councilwoman Willie Dell, and the late Dr. Norma Goode, Hilda Warden, James Ryan, Thomas Baynham, Edward Brown, Sandra T. Mitchell, and Oliver Epps.

Mr. Seay also was a lifetime member of the NAACP, contributed to The Richmond Crusade for Voters and attended the Oct. 16, 1995, Million Man March in Washington, D.C. alongside his son, Jaye. A political demonstration in Washington, D.C., the historic march was designed to promote African-American unity and family values.

During his retirement, Mr. Seay remained a dedicated community servant, tutoring for Richmond Public Schools and the Head Start program, and chairing the committee for the Sigma Beautillion as a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity’s Lambda Chapter at VUU.

“Our Beloved Chapter Co-Founder, Mr. Elmer T. Seay Jr. has peacefully made his transition to the Ancestor realm,” the Richmond ABSW wrote in an announcement of Mr. Seay’s passing. “He lived to be 90 years old, and cultivated a life and legacy of activism as a social worker.”

Mr. Seay nurtured his art skills throughout his life, with his work featured in Armstrong and VUU yearbooks, as well as in his home and the homes of his family. “A self-taught artist, he was a masterful storyteller who skillfully wielded his brush, pen, and pencil to weave narratives of resilience, strength, and the inherent beauty within the African-American experience,” his obituary reads.

A member of First African Baptist Church since 1950, he served as a member of its History Committee. In 2023, Mr. Seay was honored and recognized as the Father of the Church.

Mr. Seay is survived by his wife of 62 years, Shirley Hairston Seay, daughter Terri Anderson, son Jaye Anderson; sisters Evelyn Williams and Virginia Lewis and grandchildren Bevin Brown, Drew Anderson, Farron Anderson, Arielle Seay, Noemi Seay, and Brienna Seay.

A memorial for family and friends of Mr. Seay took place Monday, Feb. 12, at Mimms Funeral Home. A celebration of life followed on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at First African Baptist Church.