Lester “Les” Thomas Simpson, Sr., 87, of Amarillo, Texas, passed away on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Tuesday Feb. 8, 2022 at Boxwell Brothers Funeral Directors, Ivy Chapel, 2800 Paramount Blvd., Amarillo, Texas. The Rev. Kim Talley will officiate. The family will have visitation at the funeral home following the service.
Les was born Nov. 19, 1934 in Norwood, N.C., to George A. and Helen (Aycock) Simpson. He was a proud member of the Norwood High School Class of 1953. Though the school had been closed for decades, he and other classmates from his era continued to have annual reunions. The last one, which he attended, was in 2019.
Though the number attending had dwindled in recent years, he was the glue that held the graduates together as he continued to talk to them regularly. Fellow classmates who still live in the area said he knew more about what was happening in Norwood and the surrounding area than they did!
After graduation, he attended Richmond Polytechnic Institution, now known as Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating in 1957 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Distributive Education. He was extremely active in college life – serving on student government and being elected senior class president – while working in local clothing stores to pay for college.
He didn’t own a car but would hitchhike between Richmond and Norwood during class breaks and the summer. He later earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration from Radford College, now Radford University, in Virginia.
His first teaching job was in Giles County, Virginia, where he met Mary Carter Cunningham. They married on June 16, 1959, in Pearisburg, Virginia.
Les became Supervisor of Distributive Education for Roanoke (VA) City Public Schools in 1960. While in Roanoke, he and Mary Carter became parents to Lester Thomas Simpson Jr. on Nov. 22, 1964.
In 1966, his family moved to Tifton, Georgia, where he became an Associate Professor of Distribution Education at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. He taught marketing and merchandising, business law and distributive education classes to thousands of students during his career. He served as advisor to the Circle K organization and the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA). His DECA students won awards at multiple national conventions.
He was involved in Kiwanis Club in Virginia and Georgia for many years, serving in leadership roles and recognized for his contributions to the organization. At ABAC, he served as the public address announcer for the school’s Golden Stallions men’s basketball team. In the community, he served in a variety of roles from elementary school PTA president to a member of the local zoning board. He also enjoyed coaching basketball for elementary age kids.
While in Tifton, he began “junking” as a hobby. He would scour garage sales, thrift stores, flea markets and other locations to find antiques or other valuable items he could take to a local auction to re-sell for a profit. On occasion, he was known to travel the backroads of South Georgia and if he saw something in the front yard of a house that caught his attention, he would stop the car, knock on the door and ask if they wanted to sell it. He often joked that the deals got better as payday got closer. He continued junking the rest of his life and while he never made a fortune, he developed many relationships through junking in Georgia, Virginia and Texas.
Les retired in 1987 and was named an Associate Professor Emeritus by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents for his teaching career. As the letter from the academic dean notifying him of the honor stated: “Unfortunately, this new title will not increase your net retirement pay, but it does give you an official title to use should you desire it.”
After retirement, he and Mary Carter moved back to Virginia, living in Pearisburg and Blacksburg before returning to Tifton in 1996. She passed away on Jan. 7, 2008.
Several year later, Les Jr., his only child, asked if he might consider moving to Amarillo, Texas, to be with him and his family, including his two granddaughters.
“Wouldn’t it be a good idea to move here?” his son asked. “What if something happens to you and you are by yourself, what would you do?”
Les Sr. thought for a second.
“I guess they’ll call you to see if we need to pull the plug!”
“Well, there’s a lot that can happen between now and pulling the plug!” his son replied.
In the summer of 2011, he moved to Amarillo, first living at The Continental before moving to the Wellington Apartments.
Not long after he arrived in Amarillo, he would mention to people he would meet that his son was publisher of the local newspaper, thinking it might help him or give him a little prestige. What he quickly learned was sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t!
He would visit the newspaper office downtown many times – without his son knowing – just to talk with staff members or see if he could get an extra roll of leftover newsprint for his junking. Many employees took time to chat with him as he would ask about them, their family and children or where they went to school.
He would bring some a gift, most often a trinket he had found at a thrift store that he found attractive. They accepted his gifts with appreciation. His son would roll his eyes when he found out, but he was appreciative of how kind they were to his father.
Les had never cooked many, if any meals, so he ate out most days. He tended to stick with his favorite restaurants: Cracker Barrel, Waffle House, Malcom’s, Youngblood’s and, more recently, Tyler’s BBQ.
He loved talking with the staff or flirting with the server or sharing his wisdom and advice about life. If he really liked you, he’d call you “sugar.” Just as at the newspaper, he would bring gifts for servers he liked or even something for their small children if he knew about them. It was his therapy.
He continued his junking in Amarillo and was frequently seen at garage sales and might have been the most frequent customer at Downtown Women’s Center, where he’d stop by on a regular basis to check the updated inventory.
He had a small booth for years at Alley Katz on the Sixth Street and would regularly work his assigned shift at the checkout counter.
He and his son attended a variety of sporting events over the years in Georgia and Texas. They celebrated his 80th birthday in nosebleed section seats watching the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. He enjoyed the game but turned his hearing aids off when Pitbull performed at halftime.
He once attended a Texas Tech-Texas basketball game in Lubbock and was able to meet then-Texas coach Shaka Smart, who was the former coach of his beloved alma mater VCU. He even has his picture taken with him. (Thanks Four Price for setting up the meeting!) Tech beat Texas that day, too. But Shaka was still nice enough to chat with Les for a few minutes after the game.
Les enjoyed the freedom of driving and the ability he had to travel. He would study his atlas for his trips near and far. He usually owned at least a half dozen of the publications scattered around his apartment. He loved going “back East” to visit friends and family and was able to travel well into his 80s.
Though a good driver, the front bumper on his Buick had to be reattached on a regular basis! He was always careful with no major wrecks or collisions, though he did keep his insurance card and registration in an envelope labeled “For Police” in his glove compartment.
A seizure in August led to health complications and many other life changes.
Les was told that he really shouldn’t drive a car after the seizure because he might hurt someone if he had another episode while driving.
While he understood the wisdom in no longer operating an automobile, he asked if it would be ok to drive an “electric scooter.” When told probably not, he thought for a minute. “What about a mule?” He loved his freedom.
He planned a visit to his home state right before the seizure but wasn’t able to make the trip. He had even splurged for a first-class ticket for the first time, which was amazing considering how much he hated spending money.
The last few months of his life were challenging, but he was helped, encouraged and cared for by an amazing Amarillo health care community.
If the pandemic was causing stress to the health care workers he encountered, you’d never know it.
The staff at BSA Hospital was incredible! From the ER to ICU to the Covid floor – he caught that in November! – to the general floors and every department in between, BSA staff was kind, patient and helpful. He joked that after five ER visits and three hospital stays, he should have been getting loyalty points or something.
He appreciated the staff and care at Heritage Convalescence Center during his rehabilitation. He asked if they could go with him when he left.
In September, he moved to Brookdale Medi-Park West, where the wonderful staff treated him like he was their own grandfather. And they were ok that he kept his room at a toasty 78 degrees.
He was very appreciative of all who took care of him, especially Katie and Stephanie.
He is survived by his son Les and daughter-in-law, Denise Simpson, of Amarillo; granddaughter Faith and husband Taylor Rodgers of Abilene; granddaughter Meredith Simpson of Amarillo; great-grandson Miller of Abilene; and his brother Loyd Simpson of Trinity, N.C.
Memorials may be made the Amarillo Senior Citizens Center, 1301 Sixth Ave. Amarillo, TX 79106, or to Virginia Commonwealth University, Box 843042, Richmond, VA 23284-3042; or donate a trinket to the Downtown Women’s Center Thrift City, 812 SW 10th Ave, Amarillo.
Please use this link to view the funeral via livestream: https://www.facebook.com/BoxwellBrothersFuneralDire…/live/