If it’s fair to say Earl Simpson was one of the town’s more colorful characters, there’s no doubt what those colors were. He was full-hued red, white and blue – and green.
Simpson died Dec. 4 in Rock Hill. He was known for his service and his antics in Fort Mill. Simpson served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and the Korean War. Fresh out of the military, he followed his sister’s advice and left native Woodruff for a mill job in Fort Mill. He then became commander of Eli Bailes American Legion Post 43, a post he held for 17 nonconsecutive years.
“American Legion was very important to him,” said stepson Mark Melton. “His country was very important to him.”
Simpson had an adopted country, too. For one day each year, he went all-out Irish.
“He liked St. Patrick’s Day better than Christmas,” said his wife, Peggy Simpson. “That was his day. He had his one-man parade. He would go up and down Main Street.”
Simpson found a leprechaun suit to wear each year, first in Fort Mill but later for actual parades in Charlotte. He even made it to Ireland once. He started out giving golden half dollars to children but later put his holiday spirit on a budget.
“He said it got down to where he had to paint rocks gold,” his wife said. “When he was really into something, he was into it.”
Earl Simpson was very patriotic. Robbie Munn spent years alongside him with the local American Legion post. Many members learned what the organization could do by watching what Simpson did.
“If you needed something of him, he’d give it to you; and if he didn’t have it, he’d find it for you,” Munn said.
Simpson often traveled to Columbia with veterans, helping them get needed services. He worked with the Legion’s boys state program and organized July 4 events. He also performed all sorts of ceremonies and did “about everything” else for the Legion. And Simpson participated with his Veterans of Foreign Wars post, too.
“He was fair and even to everybody,” Munn said.
Yet even the veteran of two wars often found himself recognized most for holiday cheer – and equal opportunity holiday cheer at that.
“He always played Santa Claus at Christmas for the Christmas party,” Munn said.
Simpson once even tried to start a St. Patrick’s Day dance.
Friends recall him wanting to put a smile on someone’s face, regardless what he had to wear to do it. His health didn’t allow the leprechaun gig the past five years. But friends and family say he’ll be remembered for the spirit he put into it and into so much else in his life.
“That made his day,” Melton said. “He had his leprechaun suit. He’d just go up and down Main Street.”