Thanks, Eddie, for everything

Eddie Seaward, formerly head groundsman of the All England Lawn Tennis Club for 22 years, passed away on May 12 aged 75

Eddie Seaward, formerly head groundsman of the All England Lawn Tennis Club for 22 years, passed away on May 12 aged 75. We look back on the life and times of this doyen of the groundscare and fine turf industry, and express thanks for everything Eddie has done – for the industry and for everyone who had the pleasure and privilege of knowing him.

If anybody had told Eddie Seaward what his career in groundsmanship would have evolved into – man-manager, communicator and business/finance practitioner, as well as turf science professional – he once said he probably would never have entered the industry!

But for more than two decades prior to retirement, his role as head groundsman at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) enabled Eddie to spotlight the achievements and expertise of grounds professionals to a global audience. As the world’s media looked on, his presence in front of the TV cameras, on the radio and in the national press surrounding the Wimbledon Championships did so much to boost the recognition of his fellow professionals and of the industry as whole. Indeed, his work at Wimbledon also made him a ‘must-have’ speaker at numerous industry-focused conferences in, for example, the US, Australia, Portugal and Holland as well as throughout the UK.

Eddie was always willing to stop and chat and, if asked, offer advice. It was this friendly and ‘open’ demeanour that endeared him to so many people over the years.

Apart from a slight hiccup at the start of his career when, as a 15-year-old joining the grounds team at an independent boarding school, he said he became disillusioned with the job and, for a moment at least, seriously considered a role in retail, Eddie went on to establish an enviable reputation as a renowned grounds professional.

At 24 years of age he became head groundsman of the Civil Service Sports Ground in Portsmouth then, in 1978, an instructor in groundscare at a community school in Berkshire. After 18 months, he was appointed head groundsman at the Recreational Society Sports Ground at Aldermaston then joined the AELTC in 1990. He retired as AELTC head groundsman in August 2012.

While his role at Wimbledon has most notably highlighted his involvement in the construction of the new Number One Court and the redevelopment of Centre Court with its retractable roof – for which in 2008 he was awarded an MBE for services to sport – it was  in Eddie’s year of his retirement that the AELTC hosted the 2012 Olympic tennis tournament which started just 20 days after the Championships. It was a massive challenge for Eddie and his team; Neil Stubley (Eddie’s successor) took charge of the courts for the Championships while Eddie focused on the 12 courts for the Olympics. The results achieved were a testament to the great man himself and the Wimbledon team.

Eddie always strove to maintain the high standards that have set Wimbledon’s playing surfaces apart. Years of dedicated hard work and deeply-involved research and development were invested by him and his team in close collaboration with industry experts to make the AELTC’s grass tennis courts the best in the world.

In addition to man-management skills, Eddie said that, in fact, most business skills were needed for the role, as well as turf culture expertise, of course. The grass was just one aspect of the job, he said, which is also as much about building relationships with people and departments, and taking care of the requirements of our members. People tend to forget that the AELTC is open all year-round, he said.

Eddie agreed that modern-day turf care is certainly a science; “there is a need to understand the chemistry of soil and grass, and the interaction between the two, if we are to make improvements”.

The thought of this mixture of turf culture expertise combined with man-management, communication and business skills would have made Eddie run a mile when he started his career, he has reflected. “However, there is actually nothing to be afraid of, but you must have support from your club and team members, adequate and appropriate training…and an understanding wife.”

Geoff Webb, chief executive of the Grounds Management Association (GMA), reflected: “Eddie became the first (and only) patron of the GMA after a long and distinguished period of service and contribution at branch, regional and board level. He was also an outstanding ambassador for the industry, being able to communicate effectively with celebrities and royalty. Importantly, though, he also gave equal status to everyone and he influenced many in the industry, encouraging them to go on and succeed.

“For me, Eddie was an inspirational leader and a real statesman. He gave wise counsel and advice, supported individuals and quite simply elevated the profession and advanced opportunities for so many people who were also lucky to know him personally as a friend as well as a colleague, including myself.”

Upon retirement in 2012 – the year he received the GMA Lifetime Achievement Award - Eddie intended to ‘occupy’ himself by devoting more time to his roles with Myerscough College (of which he was a fellow) and the Land Drainage Contractors Association (patron), as well as the GMA. He had been an GMA member for more than 50 years and in 2009 was appointed patron and made a fellow member. Sadly, his plans for more extensive activities with these associations were to be thwarted by illness. 

Rest in peace Eddie.