Frank “Sonny” Seiler, an attorney who owned the University of Georgia’s famed line of “Uga” bulldog mascots and served as lead defense counsel in a notorious case that was chronicled in the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” died Monday. He was 90.
The university announced that Seiler died in his hometown of Savannah, Georgia, after a short illness.
The “Uga” tradition began in 1956 when Seiler and his wife, Cecelia, brought their English bulldog to the season-opening football game at the request of then-coach Wally Butts.
Since then, Seiler and his family have raised a continual line of mascots for the Georgia football program, including the present “Uga XI.” The burly dogs have received widespread acclaim, including an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
“Mr. Seiler was a dear friend who I cherished and will miss very much,” Georgia athletic director Josh Brooks said in a statement. “He was an iconic figure at the University of Georgia for the past almost 70 years. Because of his generosity, Uga is the most beloved and recognizable mascot in all of college athletics. We owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for building a legacy that will continue for years to come.”
Seiler’s fame extended beyond the gridiron, most notably when he served as lead defense attorney for Savannah antiques dealer Jim Williams, who was tried four times in the 1981 slaying of his lover before he was finally acquitted.
The case served as the centerpiece of John Berendt’s 1994 bestselling book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” which introduced the world to a wide range of eclectic characters in Georgia’s historic coastal city. The book was later adapted into a 1997 movie directed by Clint Eastwood, in which Seiler portrayed the trial judge.
A member of the Screen Actors Guild, Seiler also appeared in the the 1998 film “The Gingerbread Man” and 2000’s “The Legend of Bagger Vance.” In addition, he co-authored the book “Damn Good Dogs!”
After receiving both his bachelor’s and law degree from the University of Georgia, Seiler joined the Savannah firm Bouhan Falligant in 1960 and became a senior partner. He also served on the Georgia Athletic Association’s board of directors and several other organizations associated with his alma mater.
“Sonny’s contributions to the University of Georgia as a student and alumnus were innumerable, and his loyalty to his alma mater was unmatched,” university President Jere Morehead said. “His legacy will live on forever in the history and traditions of this great institution.”
Seiler is survived by four children, seven grandchildren and a great-grandchild. Cecelia, his wife of 59 years, died in 2014.
Paul Newberry, The Associated Press