Skip to main content

Professor Len Sealy (1930 – 2020)

  • 07 September 2020

Black and white portrait photo of Len Sealy

The College mourns Life Fellow Professor Len Sealy who passed away on 4 September 2020, aged 90.

Len first came to Caius in 1955 to complete a PhD on Company Law, after which he returned to New Zealand to practice at the New Zealand Bar. In 1959, he returned to Caius as a Fellow and Assistant Lecturer. In 1961, he started as a Lecturer in Law at the University and continued in this post until 1991 when he was appointed as the SJ Berwin Professor of Corporate Law. During his time at the Faculty of Law, Len served as Editor of the Cambridge Law Journal and Chairman of the Faculty. He retired in 1997 and became a Life Fellow of Caius. Len was just short of his 61st year as a Fellow. Many Caians will remember him as a Fellow in Law, sometime Tutor, Senior Tutor, and Admissions Tutor. His academic works included Sealy & Milman: Annotated Guide to the Insolvency Legislation 2011, Sealy's Cases and Materials on Company Law and Commercial Law: Text, Cases and Materials.

There is a comprehensive biography of Len on the Squire Law Library website based on interviews with Len and supplementary notes, which details his connection to the College and the Faculty. The account provides a fascinating insight into Len’s thoughts on life at Caius as a postgraduate student, what he valued the most about the collegiate environment – cross-disciplinary interactions during college social gatherings stand out – as well as his motivations to return to Cambridge and Caius.

The Master, Dr Pippa Rogerson, considered Len a very dear friend, mentor and colleague. Pippa said, “Len was a devoted and much-loved fellow of Gonville & Caius College. He had been a graduate student taking his PhD, encouraged by Robin Cooke and funded by the WM Tapp Fund, from 1955-58. After returning to New Zealand for a while Len was elected a fellow in 1959, joining Michael Prichard. Together they were Caius law for over 30 years, also supervising for Newnham College (which had no law fellow until 1980). Len was variously Tutor, Senior Tutor, and Admissions Tutor. He was a longstanding member of the College Council in the 1970's. Len was active in promoting the admission of women students, and keen to find women to sing in the (previously male voice only) chapel choir. Even after retiring Len continued to attend College General Meetings as a Life Fellow and took a lively interest in College business. When a job needed doing Len would get on with it, unobtrusively and effectively.

“Generations of law students benefitted from Len's apparently casual and friendly teaching style: "Call me Len, and forget the gowns" as Geoffrey Vos LJ remembers from his time at Caius in 1960's. One shouldn't be taken in by the informality: Len's supervisions cut right to the heart of any knotty legal problem. He dissected it, and resolved it with clarity and simplicity. His comments on essays, written in his beautiful hand, were kindly but stretching. He was an excellent afterdinner speaker, memorably regaling the post-tripos law students with bloopers culled from examination scripts delivered with impeccable timing. I'm not sure the examples weren't fabricated, but never the same twice.

“Together with his wife Beryl, Len was a wonderful host to both colleagues and students. They both much enjoyed renovating old houses and planting gardens. His carpentry skills came in handy every time the family moved, which was surprisingly often - the last only a couple of years before he died.

“Personally, I only returned to Cambridge (and Caius) to take a PhD with Len's encouragement and support. It was typical of him to want the best for any of his students. That did not have to be high academic achievement or legal success. He was just as pleased when a student made the Blue Boat, or starred in a play, or became President of CU Conservative Association or CU Labour Club.”

The College offers its condolences to his family, and all his colleagues, friends and students around the world. Len's funeral will be for family only due to CoVid restrictions. A memorial service in Chipping Camden is planned when possible.