SF State Says Goodbye to Professor Simpson
January 25, 2007 4:51 PM
Professor Dwight James Simpson Ph.D., 85, died Dec. 22 after a brief illness. The international relations professor had been teaching at SF State since 1968 and students, colleagues, and friends said Simpson will be deeply missed.
"Dr. Simpson was the international relations department, to me at least," said former student Kelly Parpovic, who is now serving as a development intern at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. "He was not only my adviser and mentor, but a friend as well."
He was born in Salem, Ore., and grew up in San Mateo and San Francisco. He earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Stanford University, and a postdoctoral degree from University College, Oxford.
Simpson served in the Army in World War II, and was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for exceptional bravery. He was president of Bogazigi University in Turkey from 1965 to 1966, taught at Istanbul University, observed the election in Haiti for Human Rights Watch, and frequently traveled to the Middle East.
It was his personal experiences combined with his intellect that made him an exciting and thought-provoking lecturer, students said.
"I took two classes with him, and he just made class come alive," said former student Jen Erickson. "You always knew he was going to do something that you would tell your friends about later in the day."
Never one to hide his opinions on international politics, Simpson was often critical about American foreign policy. But Erickson said he always stressed tolerance and never disrespected anyone who had different opinions than him.
Colleagues said he was somewhat of a secret weapon for the international relations department. He was specifically chosen to teach International Relations 104, open to non-majors, because of his knowledgeable and gripping lectures.
"He didn’t just teach dry theories," said Andrei Tsygankov, associate professor of international relations and political science. "His use of personal experiences and classroom interaction made his lectures exciting. Students would come and see how he teaches and get addicted."
Martin Morales was one of those "addicts." As a freshman in 1988, Morales took one of Simpson’s classes and immediately changed his major from political science to international relations. The next semester, Morales became Simpson's teaching assistant.
During this time Morales said Simpson became a mentor and father figure.
Simpson was very active outside of the classroom as well. He was an advisor to many groups on campus, was often sought by news media for his expertise in U.S. foreign policy, and often lectured for the Commonwealth Club of California.
Norma Walden, chair of the International Relations Forum for the Commonwealth Club, described Simpson as a modest man who would prefer the conversation to not focus on him. Walden knew him for almost a decade and didn’t know he was was part of the D-Day invasion until she read his obituary.
"He did tell me that as an Oxford University graduate student he took part in the tradition of jumping off the bridge into the River Thames - but I had to ask him about it first," Walden said.
Simpson was a brilliant man who could be very stubborn, said assistant professor Sophie Clavier, a former student of Simpson's.
"If he felt something was right he would pursue it, regardless of school politics or political correctness," said Clavier. "A perfect example of that is him not retiring at a decent age."
Teaching was very important to Simpson. When Clavier visited him in the hospital shortly before his death, he asked her to speak to the dean to make sure he could teach in the fall if he had to miss a semester.
Clavier was very close to Simpson - the two had shared an office for nearly a decade, and she visited him each day he was in the hospital. She knew things were bad when Simpson asked her to take over grading for one of his classes.
"It was a big blow, and I still miss him," she said.
The "Professor Dwight James Simpson Memorial Scholarship Fund" has been founded by the international relations department. For details, please contact Senem Evrim Ozer at (415) 405-2418.
Donations in memory of Professor Simpson may also be sent to Citizens for East Shore Parks (www.eastshorepark.org).
He is survived by his wife Harriet, four children and 10 grandchildren.
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