2018-04-12 / Opinions

Simpson could top a million-dollar act with his priceless talent

By LORAN SMITH
columnist

I n the sixties, during troublesome times, William A. (Bill) Simpson was the versatile Public Relations Director for the University of Georgia. The University was not flush with money, and segregation prevailed across the state.

Funding would later brighten under the leadership of Gov. Carl Sanders but dark clouds would not go away until the state successfully managed the integration of the public school systems.

It was, unfortunately, an era when the viewpoint of PR directors was seldom valued when crisis came about. Bill had to manage the press releases at a time when press releases often wound up in print – in some cases verbatim. They were mimeographed and mailed to outlets across the state. As the PR officer, Bill, on countless occasions, had a release ready for distribution when a call would come from Old College to cease and desist. A latent directive from the Governor’s office to UGA administrators meant that a new release had to be created and distributed to the press – media being a term that would not enter the communications lexicon until a couple of decades later. In that era, damage control was a major function of the public relations office. Bill served the University well in times of stress. While, he was not blessed with a resourceful budget, Bill was an enterprising manager. He, as they say, thought big. One of his responsibilities was to produce the “Georgia Alumni Magazine.” He found a way to stretch the budget to allow for four-color printing of the magazine’s covers, something that is as commonplace today as error riddled emails.

Simpson was insightful, discerning, and clever. He was well connected, joining the Atlanta Chapter of the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) which allowed him to spread the good news about UGA to an influential contingent of movers and shakers in the Atlanta business community. He fought for the sanctioning of new ideas to reluctant and conservative administrators who tended to be isolationists. Athens was more than arms-length from Atlanta, and they preferred to keep it that way. Conservative leadership can have its place, but when it strangleholds vision and thwarts potential, then the University suffers – sometimes dramatically.

Bill could expertly design a political campaign. He could wow a civic club luncheon and delight a coffee club gathering. Deadlines could ruin his day, but the finished product often made his client’s day. UGA aficionados across the state who, on fall Saturdays, ventured into Sanford Stadium will remember Bill as the home game house announcer who cleverly handled those duties.

After referring to the University of Alabama’s million dollar band, he would describe Georgia’s band as “priceless.” If he were handed a note asking for a Brandon Cows to report to Gate 8, he knew immediately that a Georgia sports information staffer, who would later become athletic director, was lurking somewhere.

In the 70s and 80s, Bob Argo, a distinguished state representative, and his wife, Jean, hosted an annual Christmas party for their longtime friends, all University advocates and devout Bulldog loyalists. Nothing like enjoying the festive Christmas season with food, fellowship, and drink. This was the best Christmas party in Athens.

Jean Argo always wrote a poem which fit the occasion, but the highlight of the evening was Bill Simpson and his Broadway themed doggerel. To begin with, his generation eagerly swooned to piano music. Simpson was as compatible with the piano keys as Jack Nicklaus was with a one iron.

Bill poked fun at the hosts and the guests as only an insightful and talented raconteur can do. He could compose sprightly lyrics, and he could sing. To the delight of his many friends, Bill made everybody laugh and enjoy themselves, making for a wholesome and clever presentation. Nothing profane or demeaning.

For most of Bill Simpson’s 87 years on this earth, he made people laugh and swoon to his medley of classic humor and levity. When it was time to be serious, he was up to that, too. Unfortunately hard times came to him in his final days, but he kept a stiff upper lip, finding a way to smile at a painful end.

There is no pantheon of devoted UGA loyalists on campus, but there should be for those like Bill Simpson who longed to see the state university of Georgia realize its vast potential. He certainly did his part to make it happen.

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