Remembering Harry Simpson

George (Bill) Shaffer ’65 Presented Eulogy for Harry Simpson ’65

Young Harry Simpson in army uniform. Harry and younger cadet by statue.

Thank you for allowing me to speak with you today as we honor the life of my friend, Harry Simpson. I met Harry in 1960 when we both enrolled as freshmen at Oklahoma Military Academy. We became friends and remained close over the years even though our lives took different directions.

When we graduated from the academy six years later, Harry headed for Vietnam and I headed for the University of Tulsa. We stayed in touch off and on over the years. Harry played a key role in my becoming involved in the OMA Alumni Association. Oh, how he loved that brotherhood of former cadets.

Harry put his focus and enthusiasm into every project the alumni association was involved in. In 2018, at the OMA Alumni Reunion, he secured hundreds of people to serve as volunteers at THE WALL THAT HEALS. Harry put together a group of volunteers that so impressed THE WALL officials from Washington that they said it was a better job of hosting than any other place they had visited.

One of  the groups that Harry recruited was the Boy Scout Troop I sponsored in Tulsa. One of our Eagle Scouts met with Harry and developed a plan to involve troop members to help with THE WALL THAT HEALS. More than 150 Scouts and leaders participated in the event. Scouts holding American flags lined the roads as the vehicle bearing THE WALL THAT HEALS made its way to “The Hill”. Scouts were waiting to help assemble THE WALL.

Harry felt strongly that the children in America were not being taught  what the Vietnam War was all about and how the veterans of that war felt. He inspired my Scouts to learn about that misunderstood part of our history. And when it was over, Harry Simpson came to a Scout meeting to personally thank the scouts for their participation and express how much their involvement meant to him.

Harry Simpson served in the Army with the 11th Armored Calvary Division in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967. He received full military honors including the playing of taps and the folding of the American flag at his graveside service on June 1. Harry and I were honored by the OMA Alumni Association as Distinguished Alumni in 2015.

These are the things that Harry did. But that doesn’t tell the true story of who he was – a patriot, a son, a brother, a husband, a father, and a valued member of this community. I was really hoping Harry would speak at my funeral. He always knew what to say. I really enjoyed being around Harry because he was so socially outgoing. Always greeting everyone and making them feel welcome. He liked everyone. He always knew what to say to make people feel welcome and at ease. He always asked the right questions and was sincerely interested in what people had to say.

As a person who tends to be socially awkward and doesn’t always know what to say, I really appreciated Harry. He was my get out of jail free card and stepped in and led conversations where I could stand back and listen.

The OMA Alumni are an interesting group, filled with military people and community leaders and, at times, it seemed like a convention of alpha males. Each one with his own viewpoint. Each one with his own plan of action. Invariably disagreements and differences of opinion arose in such a group. But in my private conversations with Harry, he had only good things to say about the people he might have disagreed with. He always considered their point of view. He never allowed it to be personal. He never allowed disagreements to interfere with friendship. He was a leader but also a valuable member of a team. He was one of the gentlest and kindest human beings I have ever met. He was a model of the kind of man I wanted to be. He was always a doer. He was inclusive and respectful. His enthusiasm and kindness brightened a room.

One of my favorite memories of Harry was at one of our OMA Military Balls. I walked in late and saw Harry standing on the other side of the room with the biggest smile on his face. I wondered what he could be looking at that would make him beam like that. And then I saw what he was looking at. He was looking at Dee (who later become Harry’s wife). She looked like a princess with a beautiful gown and arm length gloves and I thought to myself…How in the world does Harry have all the luck? But I truly believe that we were the lucky ones to have had the honor of knowing Harry Simpson and calling him a friend. The world is a colder place without Harry.

I hope that the people whose lives he touched will follow his example and treat each other with the kindness and respect that Harry treated them. What a better world this would be if there were more folks like Harry Simpson. He will be missed!