Of Parts, Footprints, and Stars: John Sellon

Originally printed in the January - February  2001 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Algeo, John. "Of Parts, Footprints, and Stars: John Sellon." Quest  89.1 (JANUARY - FEBRUARY  2001):

By John Algeo, National President

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.

John A. Sellon was a man of many parts--a man for all seasons. He was a caring son, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather--a pater familias. He was especially a loving husband who stood beside his wife, Emily, in all her activities. He was an ethical businessman of astute judgment, devoted to right livelihood. He was a passionate supporter of education, intellectual rigor, and social responsibility. He was a generous friend and gracious host. He was a man who knew his mind and did not hesitate to speak it, but who also listened too ther views and took account of them. He was a Theosophist with an abiding conviction about the Theosophical Society’s purpose of doing the work of those great souls, the Masters of Wisdom, who, having dedicated themselves to the service of humanity, are thereby role models for others.

John Sellon was born in London on May 20, 1910, to Ernest and Barbara Sellon. At the age of 8, he came with his family to America, settling in Rye, New York,which was to be his principal residence for the rest of his life. His mother and father joined the Theosophical Society in 1925, when John was 15, an event that was to affect the rest of their lives and his. John himself joined in 1929 at the age of 19 just two months before the stock market crash that brought on the Great Depression.

In 1930, John’s father, Ernest, became the first president of the New York Theosophical Society, which united three earlier lodges in the city. In 1932 Ernest became international Treasurer under the presidency of George Arundale and moved with John’s mother, Barbara, to Adyar. While they were there, in 1934, Barbara painted a watercolor depicting the path leading to the beach on the Bay of Bengal from Leadbeater Chambers. Earlier this year, John gave that picture, which had long hung in his house in Rye, to the Theosophical Society as a memento of his mother. It now adorns the first-floor hall of the L.W. Rogers Building at Olcott as a point of beauty and a visual reminder of our links with Adyar and the Sellons.

In 1931, facing the rigors of those days, John left Princeton University to begin work at the American Reinsurance Company, thus launching himself on a career that he was to develop brilliantly for the rest of his life. In that same year, John married Emily Boenke and began his own family. They were a devoted couple, each with independent interests but mutually supportive and respectful. John was proud of Emily’s accomplishments and abilities, as she was of his.

While raising three sons--Peter, Jeffrey, and Michael--John Sellon followed his parents’ example of Theosophical activity, for example serving as treasurer of the New York Federation from 1934 to 1937 and of the New York Lodge in 1935 -36. He and Emily, together with Fritz and Dora Kunz, were instrumental in buying Pumpkin Hollow Farm for a Theosophical camp in 1937; for many years, John was treasurer and general manager of Pumpkin Hollow. He was president of the New York Lodge several times in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He served on the National Board of Directors of the Theosophical Society in America from 1942 to1948.

John Sellon spoke at the New York Lodge and elsewhere over a period of more than forty years. His talks were wide-ranging but practical. Some of his topics were "What Is Theosophy?" "The Objects of the Theosophical Society," "East and West: Two Approaches to a Single Reality," "Old Diary Leaves," "The Power of the Individual," "The Teachings of Krishnamurti," "The Personality: Its Structure of Thought and Feeling," "Karma and Free Will," "Theosophy, Present and Future," "Self-Awareness, a Technique of Development," "Spiritual Implications in Nuclear Energy," "The Search for Happiness," and "Right Livelihood: How to Live and Work Ethically in a Competitive World."

John Sellon also appeared in print. For example, in 1941, on the eve of America’s entering into a conflict that would sweep the world, he expressed his thoughts on "Future Program Possibilities" in the American Theosophist (29:213–21), in part as follows:

As members of the Theosophical Society we are, of course, dedicated to carry onthe work for which the Society was formed. The Elder Brethren are dedicated quite clearly to a certain type of work and I believe we have had a strong indication as to what this is. I believe that all the Elder Brethren are trying to lead humanity into a way of life which will be more in the line of Divinity and less in the line of confusion and struggle in which we find ourselves today.. . .

The Theosophical Society, it seems to me, has an unparalleled opportunity in these times--and an obligation no less than an opportunity. We have spent sixty years in building up a philosophy which is sound, correlated with scientific knowledge, and based upon the truth which is fundamental in all religions--the effort of sincere people seeking truth with great guidance. I believe we have a real conception of truth; we know the soundness of our philosophy, are convinced that it is practical.

With the new conditions that are facing the world it seems that our obligation in planning a program for the future is to bear in mind very clearly the fact that we must help the world awaken to a realization of the fundamental importance and practicality of idealism--not an idealism based on faith, but on knowledge and understanding of the true course of life in manifestation. Nothing can be more important at this time than the demonstration of a philosophy of life which carries with it the answer to the search for real personal happiness, and the solution of the problem of a world society in turmoil. We must help to give a new direction to the way of life of our fellow men.

Those words are no less applicable today than they were nearly sixty years ago. John Sellon was a man for all seasons and all times. He was also active inthe work of the Integration Committee, whose primary aim was to integrate Theosophy with modern knowledge. Its principle outlet was the journal Main Currents in Modern Thought, for which Emily was a writer, assistant editor, and finally editor for a period of thirty years.

One of John Sellon’s great practical contributions was his work on theTheosophical Investment Trust. Established in 1955, it had as its foundingTrustees (in addition to three ex-officio officers of the Society) Herbert Kern as chair, Sidney A. Cook, Alonzo G. Decker, and John Sellon. John served as a Trustee for forty-five years, longer than any other officer of the Trust, and for more than half that time as chair of the Trustees. Under his guidance and supervision, the Trust has grown and is now a major source of funds "to carry on the work for which the Society was formed," as John put it in his 1941 programmatic statement.

In 1976, as chair of the Trust, John reported to the members of the Section on "The Economics of Service at the National Level" (AT 64:266–8). He ended, as always, on a practical note:

In conclusion, I would like to say that your national organization is constantly concerned with the needs of its members, and has tried to respond to these needs at a level of performance which is possibly beyond its means. Each year we go forward, confident that these services will be supported by the membership. To do so by contributing in a monetary way is often the best way that each member can gain an intimate sense of participation in the great service we have embraced as Theosophists.

Although, as was appropriate to his role as financial advisor to the Society, John wrote of "contributing in a monetary way," he also recognized that contributions of other sorts--of one’s talents, one’s time, and one’s commitment--are just as, indeed even more, important. John Sellon, that man of many parts, that man for all seasons, gave freely of himself--talents, time, and commitment--because he recognized the importance of what he lived for. And in so doing he, like those Elder Brethren of whom he spoke so often, became a role model for the rest of us.

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us,
Footprints in the sands of time.

John Sellon was a man of great ideals and great vision. He left large footprints. We may not be able to fill them as he did. But they mark out a path. We can follow in those footprints and thereby make our lives, like his, sublime.

The Theosophical Society has been blessed with an abundance of great men and women, each shining forth the light of his or her own unique nature. Illustrious among them have been Ernest Sellon, Barbara Sellon, Emily Sellon, and John Sellon. They have been luminaries that lit up our sky. In this world, we are all wanderers--planets reflecting the light of the sun. But our true nature and our destiny is to be bright stars in the firmament of heaven.

Astronomers tell us that the matter of which our bodies are made has been repeatedly in the interior of stars. We are, quite literally, made of starstuff. I think of John Sellon as a whole constellation, perhaps Ursa Major--part grizzly bear, part teddy bear, but wholly star stuff. It has been written:

There is no death! The stars go down
To rise upon some other shore,
And bright in heaven's jewelèd crown
They shine for evermore.

We stand as upon a hill in the dark night, watching the stars pass in their courses above us. Some shine with greater brilliance than others, but all lightup the sky with the beauty of the night. They cross the heavens in measured paths, according to the Great Law, and as morning dawns, they are lost to oursight. But we know that they still shine. What we call day is but the night of the spirit, in which the eternal Stars shine yet in the heavens and, if we are open to them, in our hearts as well. We honor those who have crossed the heavens before us. In the darkest night, they are our guides as we wait for a new dawn. John Sellon is one of those stars.


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