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W.Va. lawyer dies after cancer fight

November 11, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - J. Oakley Seibert, a Martinsburg attorney who accepted his diagnosis of melanoma with courage and determination, died at home where he wanted to be early Monday, his wife said.

"He was a person who always brought out the best in people," said Lynne Seibert, who married Oakley Seibert on March 14, 1981. "I don't believe that he had an enemy in the world."

Seibert, 57, who represented the City of Martinsburg in legal affairs since the 1970s, leaves behind his wife and a 15-year-old son, Robert Oakley "R.O.S." Seibert.

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"He wanted to fight this and he did. He didn't want our son traumatized. He wanted things kept as normal as possible," Lynne Seibert said.

A lifelong Martinsburg resident, Seibert was active in the community. Among other activities, he was a member of the Gateway Foundation's board of directors since 1987 and was its president since January 2001.

"He was certainly a delight to work with," City Hospital spokeswoman Teresa McCabe said. The Gateway Foundation is the fund-raising arm of Gateway Regional Health System, of which City Hospital is a part. "If he said that he was going to be able to attend a meeting, you could always count on Oakley."

When he was hospitalized in August and diagnosed with the aggressive form of cancer, Seibert joked with McCabe that he might not attend the next meeting, but that she could vouch for him. When that meeting rolled around, Seibert not only was present, but led the meeting, McCabe said.

"It's going to be a great loss for us," she said.

Seibert worked for either Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, or the firms that comprised it before a merger, since 1971, said Norwood Bentley, a fellow attorney at the Martinsburg firm.

If a document bore his name, Seibert was sure to read every word, he said.

"He was a very detail-oriented person," Bentley said.

"In the face of everything that happened, he maintained, somehow, a positive attitude," Bentley said. "He wanted to show all of us and everybody that knew him that he was doing everything he could to beat this thing."

Because he was always busy and moving from one task to another, Seibert's colleagues a few years ago jokingly gave him the "Kramer Award" at their Christmas party. The award was named for the restless character on the television show "Seinfeld."

"A very busy man comes to mind when I think of Oakley," Bentley said.

At the law office, a meeting was held Monday morning to let everyone know of Seibert's death, Bentley said. Tears were shed and stories of Seibert were shared.

"It's a very sad time and a very great loss for the people in this firm and really a loss in this community," he said.

Martinsburg Mayor George Karos was a friend of Seibert's for more than 30 years.

"I could talk forever about Oakley," Karos said.

Despite his schedule, Seibert made time for other pursuits. Karos said he always golfed with Seibert during the City Open tournament.

"He and I would always be partners, and he and I would always lose," Karos said.

Along with being an avid golfer, Seibert rooted for the Baltimore Orioles and enjoyed playing fantasy baseball, friends said.

City Manager Mark Baldwin said Seibert possessed qualities worth emulating, such as fairness to all parties and the ability to reflect on a situation rather than react quickly.

Although Lynne Seibert said she often got on her husband for being married to his job - stacks of folders and legal briefs surrounded him in his hospital room in August - Oakley Seibert had a superb sense of responsibility when it came to family affairs, she said.

In his last days, he asked about his family, wanting to make sure they were all OK, Lynne Seibert said.

Surrounded by friends and family, Seibert died at around 12:30 a.m. His wife was on a stool beside his bed, one arm around him, the other stroking his hair.

"He just took one last breath and let it out and that was it," she said.

It was about a quarter of a century earlier that Lynne Seibert knew for sure it was with Oakley that she wanted to spend her life. They'd been dating for about a year, having been introduced by a mutual friend.

Once when Seibert planned to have friends over to his home, he and his then-girlfriend decided to have a bit of fun. Each dressed in a big, white rabbit costume, jumped out of some bushes and scared their friends.

"I knew he was the one for me," Lynne Seibert said. "I thought, OK, anyone that's willing to act silly like this ..."

Seibert's funeral is scheduled for Friday at 1 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church in Martinsburg. Viewings are scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Brown Funeral Home.

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