Denver Center for the Performing Arts founder Donald Seawell.

(Courtesy DCPA)

Donald Seawell died on Wednesday in Denver at the age of 103, according to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

His life reads almost like a play, with friends that included Franklin D. Roosevelt and honors from Queen Elizabeth II and the Tony Awards. Fitting, given that he is best known in Colorado as the founder of the DCPA.

Seawell’s multifaceted career spanning more than seven decades included producing more than 65 Broadway plays, debating at Oxford Union against Winston Churchill, conducting World War II counterintelligence, publishing The Denver Post and founding the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in 1974. Even after he stepped down as Chairman and CEO in 2006, Seawell continued to come to work in his emeritus position most every weekday until just a few months before his death.

“The day I retire,” he once said, “is the day they take me out of here in a box."

The performing arts center's 1974 opening helped revitalize the city center and has since put the Mile High City on the map for its theater. 

Seawell told Colorado Matters in 2004 that the city's downtown was decaying at the time. 

"If you see the pictures from when we built this, there was practically nothing around it, there was none of the tall buildings, none of the apartment houses, nothing. I think it helped to restore downtown Denver," he said.

Before DCPA, the area was full of buildings ready to be torn down. But Seawell said he saw potential:

"The rest of it was just a dump for old used cars, and so forth and I thought 'a wonderful place to create for the performing arts.' So I sat down on the curb, took out half an envelope and sketched out what is now the Denver Center for the Performing Arts," he said.

From there, Seawell called up the Governor and Mayor. Within the afternoon, he had started on Denver Center for Performing Arts.

His reputation as an industry leader later inspired the creation of countless other performing arts centers throughout the country, DCPA president and CEO Scott Shiller said in a statement.

A man of many hats, Seawell also helped oversee the Denver Post from 1966 to 1981, including a four-year stint as the newspaper's publisher. 

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