I want to take this blog entry to tell you all about the man I knew as Mr. Simpson. The problem is, I don't know that much about him, so instead, I'll tell you what I remember.
Mr. David Simpson was one of my high school English teachers. He was really Dr. Simpson, yet he seemed to go out of his way to avoid the title that he had earned. He was a tall, bespectacled, dark-haired man whom I always remember wearing a suit and tie. He was always impeccably groomed and he had a razor sharp wit.
Mr. Simpson somehow got me to connect with Shakespeare. He had us creating a cast list for our own Romeo & Juliet movie based on whichever contemporary actors we wanted. All mine were from Whose Line Is It Anyway (I was never going to be a casting director), but somehow, his discussion about my justifications for Tony Slattery and Josie Lawrence to be the lead roles was never condescending (it probably should have been). We even watched Romeo & Juliet1 on VHS, so that we could experience Shakespeare through the actors rather than just from the text. Because of Mr. Simpson, The Taming of the Shrew is my favourite Shakespeare play.
Mr. Simpson encouraged me to write. He gave me access to the Apple Mac in his classroom so that I could spend more time writing my homework with a computer to overcome my poor handwriting. He pushed me to write for the school newspaper (though much to our lament, I never made it to print). I wrote a short science fiction story on my Amiga 500— it was 20-something pages long once printed from the dot matrix printer my Dad had bought me from a bric-a-brac store in Blackpool. When I gave it to him to read, eager to hear what he had to say, Mr. Simpson took it home and read it, and he gave me feedback.
Mr. Simpson helped me cope with bullies.
Mr. Simpson and I had our first trips to the top of the Eiffel Tower together. I know because as we made our journey to the top, he proclaimed to the elevator full of other sixth formers from school, "My first time up the Eiffel Tower, and with Jeff Yates too!" Everyone laughed and though I felt a little embarrassed at the time, I look back on it fondly now. And when I subsequently got left behind at the top of the tower for 30 minutes, Mr. Simpson and the other teachers were happy to let me tag along with them for dinner when they found me alone, waiting at the rendezvous point an hour early2.
If my memory were better, I'd be able to tell you more, if my memory were better. The thing is, this might be the best my memory will ever be when it comes to Mr. Simpson. I found out today that sometime in the last few years, he passed away aged 47 years old. I don't know when or how, just that he's gone, that those imagined emails or conversations where we got to reminisce as adults, where I got to thank him for everything that he had done for me— all the things he knew about and the many he didn't, where I got to try and pay him back for his lessons and support will not exist.
It's cliché, but don't wait. Take the opportunity to reach out to those who have influenced your life for the better and thank them. Do it before that opportunity isn't there anymore. I am still crying as I write this. I wish I could take every tear back just to shake his hand and say, "Thank you."
Mr. Simpson was a great teacher and though we hadn't spoken in over 15 years, I will miss him.