Former Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson lost his brief fight with cancer this week, passing away at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia on Wednesday morning. He was 80.
His wife Colleen Simpson said in a phone interview that her husband was a kind and caring man who always had time to listen and always tried to help others.
Simpson served on the Aberdeen city council for 24 years before serving as mayor pro-tem for the final year of Dorothy Voege’s term and then he served as mayor of Aberdeen from 2007 to to 2016. He also managed the J.C. Penney Store in South Aberdeen for 33 years before the chain closed the local building.
“I’ve known Bill for more than 30 years. We went to church together, served our communities together and championed projects together,” said Grays Harbor County Commissioner Vickie Raines. She added, “Bill loved helping people and it showed in the many ways he represented Aberdeen. Bill was quite the jokester and he certainly liked to laugh. My thoughts and prayers go to his wife Colleen and his family. Bill will be tremendously missed.” Raines worked alongside Simpson as both county commissioner and as mayor of neighboring city of Cosmopolis over the years.
Colleen Simpson said the large number of people who have reached out to her is a reminder of just how many lives he touched with his kindness. “People used to just come up to him out of the blue and say ‘you may not remember me but …’ and they would have some story about how he helped them get back on their feet or move forward in their lives, and Bill would just glow with pride, he really appreciated that.” The family is asking that those who wish to send their condolences do so through their post office box at P.O. Box 126, Cosmopolis, 98537.
Current Aberdeen Mayor Pete Schave said “Bill Simpson is one of those rare individuals who qualifies to be remembered among all the great folks in our history of Aberdeen. He was committed to helping Aberdeen and all he came into contact with. He had the personality that always shined and made you know you are a friend.” Schave served as councilmember when Simpson served as mayor and Simpson supported him as mayor after his own retirement. Schave added, “Bill was my friend, my mentor, my adviser, my buddy. Going to miss you, Sven.”
Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard worked with Simpson for many years. “Mayor Simpson was one of the most generous and genuine people I have ever known and his leadership will be missed,” the chief said.
Simpson was known to drive around Aberdeen handing out socks and gloves to those who could use them. His wife said he used to carry hand-warmers in their car during the winter months so that he could hand them out when he stopped. Many friends and community leaders have taken to social media to express their condolences and memories.
Public Hospital District #2 Board Commissioner Michael Bruce served as mayor of Westport and developed a strong friendship with Simpson. He said this week, “Bill had a smile that lit up a room and was the best friend a person could ask for — always concerned, friendly and helpful. I will miss the many projects that Bill and I collaborated on. He will never be replaced.”
Former Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney recounted days spent with Simpson, Bruce, Raines, and other mayors to discuss local topics. “I will miss Bill’s friendship, gentlemanliness, and compassion for people,” said Durney in a post to social media.
Aberdeen City Council President Dee Anne Shaw said in a statement, “Bill was a champion of Aberdeen. Despite all of the obstacles when it comes to redefining a natural resource based economy changed by outside forces he always remained positive about our future and never gave up that Aberdeen and Grays Harbor would eventually receive the recognition we deserve for our contributions to the state’s economy overall.” She also noted his “unbridled support of our downtown’s redevelopment efforts.”
The family is quietly conducting private services and plans a larger gathering once COVID-19 protocols relax enough to make that possible.