David Seipt, 63, Ranger, Musician

Posted: February 03, 2000

David P. Seipt, 63, of West Philadelphia, a professional harpsichordist and retired park ranger who spent decades immersed in the study of theology and classical music, died Friday at University of Pennsylvania Medical Center.

Mr. Seipt was diagnosed with cancer only three months after his March 1999 retirement from the National Park Service. He had been a ranger for 20 years, leading tours of Independence Historic National Park and playing harpsichord on the second floor of Independence Hall for special occasions.

He was a man of many talents, but none matched his passion for classical music and for sailing, which he helped finance through his job as a ranger, said his sister, Ellen Silverman. He built his own harpsichords and sailboats.

"Our father was a retired Navy captain," Silverman said. "I guess he got his love of the sea from him. Our mother was a professional violinist, so he got the music from her. Each of these things he was passionately interested in."

A deeply introspective man, Mr. Seipt pursued his artistic passions with discretion. Few knew of his vast academic and professional achievements.

"He was a very gentle, unassuming person," his sister said. "I don't think most people who knew him knew all of his accomplishments."

A native of Baltimore, Mr. Seipt earned a bachelor's in history from Johns Hopkins University in 1958. A year later, he earned a master's in English from Yale University, and in 1962 he received a bachelor's degree from Yale divinity school.

Mr. Seipt became fluent in French and German after studying in Europe. He conducted theological research for a year at the Sorbonne in Paris and was awarded a Deutscher Anademischer Austauschdienst Fellowship for dissertation work in Germany.

He was pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Mechanicsville, N.Y., from 1963 to 1968, helping establish a public library in that town before leaving to join his parents and sister in Philadelphia in 1968.

His work as a park ranger was essential in helping support his continued academic pursuits. His intellect and lucidity made him an invaluable asset in giving tours and connecting with foreign visitors.

"He was just a really smart, very courtly person who was always interested in other people," said Mary Reinhart, an interpretive specialist with the park service. "There was no arrogance about him, despite all of his accomplishments. He was humble and straightforward and fun."

Mr. Seipt was a member of Phi Beta Kappa at Johns Hopkins, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship at Yale, and the World Council of Churches Fellowship in Paris.

Among his greatest passions were his two cats, Igor and Daphne.

Mr. Seipt is survived by his sister.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. today at R.L. Williams Jr. Inc. Funeral Home, Skippack Pike at Cedars Road, Skippack. Burial will be in Worcester Schwenkfelder Cemetery.

The family suggests contributions to the American Cancer Society, 1626 Locust St., Philadelphia 19103.

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