Al Seymour is the sort of person you'd want around when you're down and out and miserably sick with the flu.
Not that you'd see gushing sympathy from Seymour. But you could bet on his getting you chicken soup and Kleenex tissues.
At monthly school board meetings' Seymour, executive director of public information for Harford public schools, stays out of the spotlight. But he's everywhere M-! holding maps so the audience can see a projected school site plan, helping community members figure out where to sit and when to talk, adjusting microphones, handing out Information.
"I see this job as a service. If I can't fulfill that service, I'm not doing my job," says the Forest Hill resident.
Doing his job well - handling public relations with the community and the schools - defines Seymour's existence. At 53, he's spent his entire work life since he finished college in 1959 in the Harford school system. The job, almost a passion, consumes his life, he says.
A slender, mild-mannered man, Seymour arrives at the redM-!brick Board of Education building in Bel Air every morning shortly after 6. He comes in weekends to work. He reads books about educational excellence in his spare time. He hauls school reports to Ocean City on summer vacations with his family, staying indoors to read.
"On vacation I have time to put together big reports for the school system, and I find that as relaxing as anything else," he says. "Work is work, but it's also a hobby. It's just the way I operate."
Harford schools are his favorite topic, and he can't praise his colleagues, or his job, enough.
"I've never had a job in the school system I didn't love," he says.
Albert F. Seymour came to the county fresh from Salisbury State College to work as an English teacher at Aberdeen High School. He earned a master's degree in literature, writing his thesis on Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, "The Scarlet Letter." He became a guidance counselor, then an assistant principal, then supervisor of secondary schools.
By 1979, he'd moved to supervisor of personnel, and eight years ago, he took his present job in charge of public relations for the Harford school system.
"Each position I enjoyed so much. I'd think, 'This is the epitome.' There's absolutely nothing I don't like about my job. I enjoy talking about the schools because I believe strongly in them. I'm very proud of them. Very much so."
The man is a walking public relations advertisement, because incredible as it may seem - he seems to really believe his own optimism.
"I used to think, 'I can't believe this man is for real,' " says Terri Grimes, a publications specialist who has worked with Seymour for a decade.
"I kept waiting for the mask to slip, but it never did. He's absolutely dedicated, and he thrives on it. And he's the epitome of courtesy, he really is."
Others who work with Seymour add that he's a fanatic for getting things done properly and ahead of time, a trait that a few have found irritating.
But Alden Halsey, deputy superintendent of the school system, praises that sort of dedication.
"I don't think I've ever worked with anyone more devoted to his work. He's just unusually capable, and he cares very deeply about students, schools and the school system," he says.
Halsey has worked with Seymour for nearly 30 years, or, as he puts it, "forever."
"He's always anxious to help others and extends himself to do so," he says. "He's Just a stellar performance any way you look at him, away from work with his family and in his work."
Seymour's work ethic began on a dairy farm on the Eastern Shore, where the tasks lasted "sunup to sundown," he says. The bent for teaching came from his mother, a public schools teacher for 35 years. The tradition has continued in his own family, with his wife, Anne, a Harford high school music teacher, and two of his three children.
Seymour's eldest son, Albert, is a biologist at the National Institutes of Health. The second son, Robert, is a college sophomore studying to teach industrial arts. His daughter, Katherine Anne, also in college, hopes to become an elementary education and music teacher.
Though Seymour speaks of his family with evident pride, he keeps no photos on his desk at work. Just stacks and stacks of papers and books for his work.
Seymour writes several newsletters for the school system, assists Superintendent Ray R. Keech, helps out at board meetings, works with state politicians and often negotiates difficulties between students or parents and school officials. He holds news conferences and fields questions from reporters.
When asked if reporters ever rattle him, Seymour shakes his head.
"I think I have a good relationship with the press," he says. "They know they can call me at home and it absolutely does not bother me at all."
The diversity in his job makes life pleasant, he says. Last year, he especially enjoyed overseeing a committee that developed goals for the entire school system. It was, he says, "a chance to work with ideas."
But the variety also can make his life a bit topsy-turvy. The tough part is the way his schedule can change at a moment's notice.
"You never really know what your plans will be for the day. If there's a problem with one of the schools, I rearrange my schedule to be there. If there's a fire on the weekend, they call me," he says.
"And if there's a bus accident, it's absolutely necessary I be there immediately. Those are probably the most stressful."
Still, Seymour rarely looks anything but perfectly calm. Every detail's in place, from his flawless manners (he hurries to hold coats and open doors) to his neutral blue suit and tasteful paisley tie (a gift from his daughter, he emphasizes).
He's a simple person, serious, Seymour says. He enjoys gardening. He's a lifelong member of the Presbyterian Church. He always orders the same dinner in restaurants - a New York strip steak, baked potato and salad.
The occasional upsets of life leave Seymour unruffled. "I may occasionally get a little tense at work, but in 32 years, I don't think I've ever lost my temper," he says.
A few years ago a thunderstorm knocked out the electricity during a board meeting. Seymour helped the meeting continue by procuring flashlights. Calmly.
The evening was, he recalls, "a bit unusual." But just part of the job.
"If you're going to do well, you must have total commitment to what you're going to do," he says. "Then you enjoy it, and it's worthwhile."
Sue Petty, a receptionist at school headquarters, has watched Seymour at work for nearly a decade.
"He's a fine gentleman, that's what he is," she says. "He always nice like that. He always does the right thing."