George L. Simpson, Jr., 91, died December 13, 2012, following a lengthy illness.
He was born October 27, 1921, in Concord, North Carolina, the only child of George L. Simpson, Sr., and Willie Odessa Hudson Simpson. After graduating from Concord High School, he entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1937, receiving a B.A. degree in 1941 and an M.A. degree in Sociology in 1944.
When America entered World War II, he was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy and served as the gunnery officer on the destroyer U.S.S Ordronaux in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific theatres, rising to the rank of Lieutenant. He received a Commendation Ribbon for his performance in the Allied invasion of Southern France. During the war, he married Louise Miller Hartsell also of Concord, who would be his wife and, in every sense of the word, his partner for the rest of his life.
Following the war, he returned to Chapel Hill to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology under Dr. Howard Odum, doing course work at both UNC and Yale and writing his dissertation on the Coker family of Hartsville, South Carolina, which was published by the UNC Press as The Cokers of Carolina (1956). He received the Ph.D. degree in 1951 and would later receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from UNC in 1969.
He joined the faculty of UNC in 1951 and taught Sociology there until 1956. At that time, Governor Luther Hodges and others were seeking to improve the economy of North Carolina by using the research capabilities of UNC, what was then NC State College, and Duke University to attract technology-based companies to the state. To that end, the Research Triangle Committee was created in 1956 to establish a research park in the center of the geographic triangle formed by the three institutions, and George was appointed the Committee’s first Executive Director. In that capacity, he led the initial efforts to establish what we now know as the Research Triangle Foundation and Research Triangle Park. These initial efforts culminated in 1958 and early 1959 with the incorporation of the Foundation, the creation of the Research Triangle Institute, and Chemstrand Corporation’s agreement to become the Park’s first tenant. Much work remained to be done, but a corner had been turned. These successes were due to the hard and persistent work of a great many people, too many to name here. He would be upset, however, if the singular contributions of Bill Little, Pearson Stewart, and Elizabeth Aycock were not acknowledged. His own role in these successes was nevertheless critical. As historians of the Research Triangle have said, if Governor Hodges was the heart of the Triangle, George became the brains, translating the Research Triangle dream into a concrete plan and leading the way in implementing it.
He returned to the UNC faculty in 1959 and taught there until 1962, when he went to Washington to serve as Assistant Deputy Administrator for Public Affairs at NASA. He later served as Assistant Deputy Administrator for Technology Utilization and for Policy Planning as well.
In July, 1965, he was installed as Chancellor of the University System of Georgia by the Georgia Board of Regents, and he served in that capacity until July, 1979. During his tenure as Chancellor, the baby-boom generation reached college age in record numbers. In Georgia, University System enrollment jumped from 52,000 in 1965 to 124,000 in 1979. Under his leadership, the System responded to this dramatic increase in enrollment by increasing the number of institutions in the System from 20 in 1965 to 33 in 1979, doing so in a geographically dispersed way that provided at least the first two years of college within commuting distance for all Georgians. He established a core curriculum for the System, meaning that all System institutions had to provide essentially the same required courses for the first two years of college so that transfers within the system were easier and could be made with little or no loss of credit. To insure mastery of the core curriculum, he instituted the “rising junior test,” a graduation requirement for all students, who had to pass the test in order to earn a degree in the System. Former Governor Carl Sanders has said of George’s time as Chancellor “I don’t know of a single job in public service where there was a better match-up of the job that had to be done and the man who was called upon to do it.”
After leaving the Chancellorship, he remained in Atlanta until 2006, when he and Louise moved to Raleigh to be near family members.
He is survived by the following, all of whom are in Raleigh: his wife Louise; his sons George L. Simpson, III and wife Nancy, and Joe H. Simpson and wife Melissa; his grandchildren Barrett Simpson Brewer and husband Curt and George L. Simpson, IV and wife Kate; his step grandchildren Jennifer Leigh Martin, Tudi Martin Jackson and husband David, and John Barry Martin; his great grandchildren Catherine Campbell Brewer, William Smith Brewer, Sara Barrett Brewer, and George Pierce Simpson; and his step great grandson John Reese Taylor.
The family wishes to thank George’s home health care givers, especially Sheral Hackney and Gwen Williams, Mayview Nursing Home, and Hospice of Wake County, all of whom provided such wonderful care to him.
There will be a private family burial service at Rocky River Presbyterian Church in Concord on Wednesday, December 19. Family and friends are invited to a celebration of George’s life at the Carolina Country Club in Raleigh on Thursday, December 20 from 4 – 6 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hospice of Wake County, Inc., 250 Hospice Circle, Raleigh, NC 27607.