BEVERLY — Robert C. Seamans Jr. spent years in Washington in top-level roles in government, from NASA to the U.S. Air Force, but it was his time in the North Shore that he enjoyed the most.
"He became international with his job, but he never wanted to leave here," said his son, Joe,
Seamans, 89, died Saturday of heart failure in his home in Beverly Farms.
Born and raised in Salem, Seamans served as deputy administrator of NASA and later secretary of the Air Force. He also went on to serve as the first administrator of the Energy Research and Development Administration, an office that would later become the U.S. Department of Energy.
While with NASA, Seamans helped oversee the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs and he and his family watched from the grandstand — sitting next to entertainers Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon — as Apollo 11 took off from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
That wasn't Seamans' only Hollywood connection, however. He was portrayed by actor Dann Florek of "Law & Order: SVU" fame in the 12-part HBO miniseries by Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, "From the Earth to the Moon."
"It was exciting to be a child in his household," said Joe Seamans, the third of five children. "Then when we moved to Washington, he had people over to dinner ... like Wernher von Braun."
Von Braun helped develop rockets that brought man to the moon.
Seamans worked for NASA from 1960 to 1968 and returned to the North Shore, joining the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but Washington soon beckoned again.
"He decided to relax and he did that by becoming secretary of the Air Force," his son said.
President Nixon tapped Seamans for that post in 1969, a job Seamans stayed in until 1973. A year later, he became head of the new Energy Research and Development Administration, which was created following the 1973 oil crisis.
He came back to the North Shore 30 years ago when he returned to MIT as dean of the School of Engineering in 1978. He remained dean until 1981 and stayed on as a professor, and later senior lecturer, until 2000.
He loved sailing as much as he loved Beverly and his hometown of Salem. Seamans owned a sailboat with his brother Donald and he would often go sailing along Cape Ann and near Marblehead and Salem. He once won the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race. Seamans was also a one-time commodore of the Manchester Yacht Club.
In addition to his love of being out on the water, Seamans was a supporter of various North Shore institutions. He was a benefactor of the Peabody Essex Museum, where there is a gallery named after him, the House of the Seven Gables, the library in Beverly Farms and Beverly Hospital.
He was active until recently when his health began to deteriorate. Up until eight months ago, Seamans was still playing tennis.
"Mortality is 100 percent certain, but in his case, he almost fooled us," Joe said of his father's emerging safely from a train collision in March 2005.
Seamans was struck by an MBTA commuter train near his home on Hale Street more than three years ago and was able to walk away with a few broken bones.
Seamans is survived by his wife of 66 years, Eugenia, five children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. John's Church in Beverly. There will be no visiting hours.