It was at least 20 years ago that I met a young man named Jeff Simpson.
The meeting came about because we had offered a silent auction prize at a charity event that gave the highest bidder the opportunity to sit in on an editorial board meeting with a prominent local or state politician — and even ask questions and participate in the discussion.
Jeff submitted the highest bid — I believe it was somewhere over $100 — and dropped in one day to announce he was there to claim it. I told him that he could have a choice of several upcoming edit board meetings. There was the mayor, county executive, the UW-Madison chancellor and others on the docket who frequently dropped in to share their goals and hopefully get us on their side.
He was more interested, though, in sitting in on a conversation with U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, who hadn't yet scheduled a meeting — but Jeff told me he'd wait for that opportunity. When Feingold did set a date, I made sure Jeff was invited.
I remember talking with him for several minutes that first day. He was proud of his job working for the athletic shoe company, New Balance, one of the few that manufactured all their shoes in the U.S. as opposed to the Nikes and Adidases of the world. He also revealed that he was a dyed-in-the-wool Wisconsin progressive and damn proud of it.
Jeff did join in the Feingold interview, and when he left, I thought that might be the last I heard of him. How wrong. He soon appeared as a regular blogger, espousing his strong beliefs in local, state and national politics, taking on those politicians he felt weren't representing the people they served, but instead the moneyed interests who contributed to their campaigns.
His blog drew many readers and was most recently found on Cognitive Dissidence, a popular statewide site which is frequently linked on our daily online opinion round-up, the State Debate.
Meanwhile, he got himself elected to the Monona Grove School Board, and became an outspoken advocate for public education and the need to support public school teachers.
Some nine years ago, Jeff discovered he had a rare form of cancer. Although he was suffering, he never let it get him down, faithfully writing his blog, actively taking part in school board business, being a caring father to his kids, and always maintaining his upbeat personality. The cancer finally got the best of him on Aug. 3. There are more than 600 messages of condolences and memories of Jeff on the Gunderson Funeral Home's website.
At his funeral later in the month, it was revealed that Jeff had written one more blog. He didn't post it anywhere, but had asked that his pastor share it with the people who were there.
Chris Liebenthal, who produces the Cognitive Dissidence site, shared it with his readers the other day. It says loads about Jeff's life and the kind of person he was. Here it is:
"In my nine plus years of battling cancer, I learned a few lessons that I feel the need to share. The first is, as the late Coach Jim Valvano famously said, “Don’t Give Up….Don’t Ever Give Up.” In my time fighting this dreaded disease, there were some very dark times and yet with so much to fight for, I never considered giving up.
"The Second lesson is Build Your Army. No one accomplishes anything alone in this world. You have to build your army and be willing to accept help. MY army was incredible, it consisted of my amazing family, my incredible medical team at UW Hospital, the Cottage Grove and Monona Grove community, My Gilda’s club support group, my Messiah Lutheran family and of course Jesus. With that strong of an army, who can stand against me?
"Third is Be Active in your community. It is important that we all do our best to make our world a better place and the best way to do that is right out your front door. Run for local office, attend local meetings, volunteer locally, shop locally when you can. Help your neighbor with tasks if you are able. The best way to change the world is acts of service and kindness with your neighbors, let the goodness trickle up.
"Fourth and final – Be Nice. As the Bible states 'and the Greatest is Love' We have become so polarized as a nation and state and there is too much anger and hatred in the world. I know in my time, I was in the middle of many of these battles, but I truly tried to engage civilly and with all people. We need to stop treating each other as enemies and instead look upon them as the human being that they are and find common ground.
"Also a couple more requests – Lets cure Cancer, we have brilliant minds in this world, this disease is horrible and we need to stop it.. Let’s get money out of politics also, so the good of the people will be the main policy driver not the profits of the corporation. Support your Public Schools. They are staffed with people who really care about all kids, so support them the way they support the community. Finally, live your life with passion and every day will have blue skies!"
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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