LOWCOUNTRY LEGACY: Gordon G. Simpson was a man with a wonderful spirit
A fervent “Amen,” delivered by a familiar voice, would punctuate the priest’s Sunday homily. It’s not the kind of thing expected in Catholic churches, where the spirit is far more likely to be associated with solemnity than self-expression.
But such expressions from Gordon G. Simpson were welcomed by fellow parishioners at St. Patrick Catholic Church in downtown Charleston. Simpson would be perched on a stool at the left rear of the church, involved and ready to support the faithful in whatever way he could.
“That was his station for as long as I can remember,” says Arthur McFarland, retired chief municipal court judge and a member of St. Patrick. “He was the unofficial greeter before ushering was formalized. He was the welcoming spirit. He never met a stranger. As a Christian, he was a great example of someone who continuously reached out to others, whether they appeared to be in need or not.”
Simpson was born in October 1921 and died Nov. 2 at 91. He was a fourth-degree member of the Knights of Peter Claver and Knights of Columbus, McFarland says.
Those who knew him say he was such an integral part of the Catholic community that trying to name the things they will miss about him is overwhelming. But some things are particularly memorable, including his cooking for parish events.
“He was good with okra gumbo, and he was good with lima beans,” McFarland says. “He was used to cooking large pots (of food) as a merchant seaman and in the Navy. He was always about the big pots.”
Not only did Simpson enjoy cooking for parishioners, one of the ways he helped the homeless and others struggling to survive was by collecting and distributing day-old bread, McFarland says. That’s why to some, Simpson always will be thought of as “The Bread Man.” As he delivered bread, he would quip, “serving the needy, not the greedy.”
James McDuffie of Moncks Corner was at the VA hospital taking photographs at an event about 12 years ago when Simpson recognized his name as being the same as an old Navy buddy. McDuffie says that as they chatted, Simpson listened intently as he told him about his photography business and genuinely cared.
For years afterward, Simpson would call occasionally to see how the photography was going, McDuffie says. He was always able to pick up where they left off during the previous conversation.
He remembered details such as photo shoots that were planned, McDuffie says. Simpson would be sure to ask how they went, provide some motivation, and give any tips he had for life.
“He would always tell you, ‘Keep doing what you are doing,’ ” McDuffie says.
Simpson also had a great sense of humor, McDuffie says. He rode with Simpson in his truck to deliver bread in neighborhoods off Spruill Avenue several times. He remembers how Simpson always said something that brought a smile to the faces of people he delivered bread to.
Patricia Mack, a St. Patrick parishioner, always will remember Simpson.
“I just miss his presence and the encouraging words he had for people,” especially those with challenges they were not confident they could meet. “He would say, ‘Oh, go on, you can do it.’ ”
When they traveled to Knights of Peter Claver conferences, Simpson always was the life of the bus, Mack says. He was the same at parish social events, where he had been known to dance with the aid of his walker.
Mack enjoyed the times when she and Simpson discussed their respective military experiences and other topics. During the past few months, when Simpson’s health did not allow him to attend church, Mack felt emptiness, she says.
“He never made anybody feel out of place or feel small,” Mack says. “Everybody was worth something to him. He was just that type of person. I just admired him as a man. I felt like he was the father of the church.”
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.