Father time has relegated William A. Simpson to a wheelchair, but his mental acuity and alertness, however, are as keen as ever. He still has that subtle and poignant wit which has accompanied his personality since he was the Athens High School court jester in the heyday of Wallace Butts in the 1940s.
Simpson was a sought-after-after-dinner speaker, for years, with an abundance of credits and liaisons: Georgia Bulldogs broadcaster in the Ed Thilenius era, director of public relations for the University, writer, editor and political guru with countless friends and associates across the state.
Led by Paul Cramer, Athens Classic Center Director, a doting crowd of over 250 gathered last weekend to pay tribute to Simpson–no speeches, but a couple of proclamations and a full house of admirers, many of whom skipped the CBS coverage of Masters playoff, to salute their friend.
Every town and community has a selfless volunteer whose creative juices never seem to stop flowing. After working for the University for over three decades, Simpson began his own firm years ago, a one man operation that specialized in public relations, advertising and assorted productions. One of the reasons he was in high demand is that he often did not charge for his services.
Politicians sought him for advice once they threw a hat in the ring. Charities in Athens couldn’t function without his sage advice. He might have grumbled to his late wife, Betty, but he had the most difficult time saying no. With his talent and creative instincts, he helped elect several mayors and raise countless dollars for charity.
His influence went beyond the borders of Athens-Clarke County. Fraternity brothers, distinguished UGA alumni out in the hinterlands of our state, rang him up for advice. He could always suggest something to stimulate an idea for the caller and added an unsolicited joke or wisecrack to top off the conversation. His humor was always making somebody’s day.
When I was the assistant sports information director to Dan Magill, I spent many hours in his office on North Campus talking to him about the Alumni Record, which he edited and produced at a time when four color printing and production costs sometimes seemed insurmountable. He had enduring respect for the Atlanta Magazine, an industry pace-setter in layout and design. The moving verbiage of the magazine’s writers often left him emotionally intoxicated. He paid close attention to this publication. Bill was always a magazine guy.
He still chuckles today about the time I once asked if I could write for the Alumni Record. The elapsing of time causes me to forget the idea or the subject matter which had stimulated my ambition and enthusiasm. Moved by the singular idea I had in mind, I wanted him to know that it was exclusive. I phrased it, as colloquially possible, by telling him that “it will be a story nobody else will have.” He never let me forget that line.
Eventually, he did publish a couple of stories by his eager friend which brought about an appreciation for what a sharp editor could do with a red marking pencil. In his prime, Bill was as good as those who edited New York based magazines.
In the eighties, he was the perennial star of a Christmas party, hosted by Jean and Bob Argo. A successful Athens businessman, Argo was also a member of the Georgia House of Representatives. The Argo party was the best Christmas party of the holiday season. As the fellowship peaked, Jean would read her latest poem, which was laced with wit and charming humor.
Then Bill would take over. One of his many talents was playing the piano. For at least 30 minutes, he would sound forth with resonating chords, spiced with lyrics which poked fun at the guests who had gathered. His concert ended with a medley of Georgia fight songs, causing us all to swoon to his Broadway style. Nothing profane or off color, just pure fun, a reminder that we all should aspire to live to see inoffensive humor become a staple of big time entertainment–but don’t count on it unless you are Methuselah in knee britches.
This was a man who would not have used a four letter word if you threatened him with a gun. He has always been a good neighbor. He has always given of himself, especially when the University of Georgia was involved. You may have a Bill Simpson in your community. If you do, you should move post haste to do as his friends in Athens did last weekend. Let him/her know you appreciate what he/she has done to make life better for your hometown.