GEORGE KUPPLER SIMSON
April 18, 1931 to March 4, 2018
George Simson, 86, died peacefully at home in Honolulu on March 4, 2018. George’s wife of 65 years, Marguerite, was at his bedside, and he was surrounded by family and friends during his last days. He is survived by Marguerite, his son Andrew (Alicia) Wollman-Simson, daughter Katherine (Mike Johns) Simson, sister Virginia Nelson, and several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his daughter Rebecca (Folkes) Pellu-Simson, who died in 1998.
Born on April 18, 1931 in Port Angeles, WA, he grew up all over the United States as he and his mother Virginia travelled with his father Jerome Simson, an engineer employed by the US Government. He graduated from High School in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. George served in the U.S. Army (1953-1956) and was stationed in Kyoto, Japan during the Korean War. He was a graduate of Whitman College (B.A., English Literature, 1952), and University of Minnesota (M.A. English Literature, 1958, Ph.D., English Literature, 1960). George Simson was emeritus professor of English and retired director of the Center for Biographical Research at the University of Hawai’i – Manoa. He taught at UH from 1963 to 1998 and sat on three Ph.D. committees.
George was a founding editor of Biography – An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, and the founder of the Center for Biographical Research (CBR) and its corresponding foundation, the Biographical Research Center. The Center is dedicated to the interdisciplinary and multicultural study of life writing. In addition to Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, in publication since 1978, the Center sponsors the Biography Monograph series, maintains a library and resource collection, hosts international conferences and visiting scholars, and conducts a public seminar series.
“My father was a fierce defender of truth and justice – politically, socially, and intellectually,” wrote Andrew Simson. “He was a good man who would sacrifice much of his own comfort for the sake of a just cause. One of my earliest memories of my father was participating in a “sit-in” on the University of Hawai’i Manoa campus protesting the war in Viet Nam.”
A child of the Great Depression, George favored austerity over excess and relevance over frivolity, and he lived his life by his beliefs. “I remember seeing my father pushing a hand-made cart with a five-gallon water cooler strapped to it, up and down University Avenue, on a 90-plus degree day, to help volunteers canvas for a candidate they supported.”
Never one to avoid the road less traveled, he used his intellect and education to promote that which reflected the best and not just the most expedient in all his many endeavors. Integrity, thoughtfulness, and a liberal sense of generosity through educating people about tools that would help them participate in and not just benefit from all that has value and purpose in an ever-changing world, are parts of George’s profound legacy.
“The Simson home was very welcoming, where everyone was a friend, regardless of political or social affiliation. Several political careers got their start in the Simson living room, including that of Neil Abercrombie and many others,” said his friend of 60 years, Don Thomson.
“George insisted on and cherished the importance of individual lives, and he devoted his professional career to helping his students and his colleagues around the world explore, learn, and benefit from the biographies, autobiographies, histories, and testimonies that people of all nations produce and value. His vision resulted in Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, the foremost academic journal devoted to life writing in the world, in the Brown Bag Biography Seminar Series, which has hosted over 700 talks on people’s lives, and in the Center for Biographical Research, the hub for all these activities and a magnet for cultural interchange,” said Craig Howes, co-editor of Biography.
“George was a pioneer in the field of biography,” said his friend and colleague, Sulak Sivaraksa. “George has been my good friend; as we say in my country, “Kalayanamitta.” He and Marguerite looked after me every time I was a refugee in Hawaii. I really miss you George.”
“I will miss my father’s influence and daily think of all the lessons he was able to impart to me throughout my lifetime,” Andrew said.
A Celebration of George’s life will be held on April 8, 2018 at 11:00 am. Please RSVP and for more details at CelebGeorge4@gmail.com.
In lieu of flowers, donations to honor George and perpetuate his life’s work may be made to the nonprofit:
The Biographical Research Center
2231 Noah Street
Honolulu, Hawai’i 96816
Because it is a 501(c).3, registered in the state of Hawai’i, all donations are tax deductible. The BRC will provide a receipt for your records.