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Former Athletic Director John Simpson Dies

Shaped BU athletics into powerhouse

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John Simpson, former BU athletic director, shortly after being named to the position in 1975. “He bled scarlet and white,” says longtime friend Jack Parker, men’s ice hockey coach. Photo by BU Photography

Former athletic director and University administrator John Simpson died Tuesday at the age of 85.

Simpson (SED’50,’54) ran BU’s athletic department from 1975 to 1984. During his tenure, he more than doubled the number of varsity teams, shaping a program with just two winning records into one with only two losing seasons. In addition, Simpson added the first 10 women’s varsity programs in school history, offering scholarships to female athletes under Title IX, the first Eastern university to do so.

“I am deeply saddened to hear the news of John Simpson’s passing,” says Michael Lynch, BU’s director of athletics and an assistant vice president. “John set a high standard of excellence for Terrier teams, coaches, and student-athletes that has left a lasting imprint on Boston University athletics, and he was full of such life and energy, always warm and welcoming. He will forever be a Terrier. My thoughts are with his wife, Dottie, and his family.”

Jack Parker (SMG’68, Hon.’97), longtime men’s head hockey coach and executive director of athletics, was a close friend of fellow hockey fan Simpson. Parker recalls the catch phrase Simpson greeted coaches with after a close, hard-fought, or come-from-behind win. “I’d see him after the game and the first thing he’d say was, ‘Never in doubt.’ He bled scarlet and white, no doubt about it. He was a great director of athletics when you look at the records and the people he brought in, but he was even better for the relationship he had with his coaches and the people around him.”

A veteran of World War II, Simpson enrolled at BU in 1946. The School of Education named him the Class of 1950’s “Man of the Year” and inducted him into the Scarlet Key Honor Society. He played varsity sports all four years. He rejoined the Marine Corps after graduation and served in Korea before returning to the Boston area to teach, coach football, and serve as athletic director at Somerset High School. While at Somerset, he earned a master’s in education at SED.


In 1975, Simpson took over as Terriers athletic director. While he was at the helm, the men’s hockey team won four straight ECAC titles before claiming its third national title, in 1978. The women’s rowing team went undefeated in 1983. That same year the men’s basketball team—under Simpson hire and future New York Knicks and Boston Celtics head coach Rick Pitino—won its first North Atlantic title and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1959. Starting in 1982, BU’s football squad qualified for the NCAA I-AA playoffs for three straight seasons. In his final year as athletic director, Simpson became one of the founding fathers of the Hockey East Association, which began play in fall 1984.

Simpson was also responsible for hiring two-time Boston Marathon winner Joan Benoit, who headed up women’s track from 1981 to 1983, before winning an Olympic gold medal in the marathon in the 1984 summer games, the first women’s Olympic marathon event. Two of the head coaches Simpson hired still lead their respective programs. Carl Adams (wrestling) and Sally Starr (field hockey) are both entering their 30th season at BU.

“He was one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met,” Adams says. “You could always tell that he really enjoyed being an athletic director. He opened doors for a lot of coaches on his staff, and he worked hard to move Boston University athletics to the next level. His support for his coaches was unwavering. He will be missed, but never forgotten.”


In 1984, Simpson took a position with BU’s Development and Alumni Relations Office, retiring in 1992. In 1996, BU introduced the John B. Simpson Award, given annually to one male and one female athlete in the senior class for enthusiasm and leadership. In 2000, Simpson was inducted into the BU Athletics Hall of Fame.


Simpson, a Brookline native and longtime resident of Boxford, Mass., lived in Nashua, N.H. He is survived by his wife, Dorothy, his son, Stephen, and his daughters, Judith and Laura.

A service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, September 4, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, 214 Main St., Nashua, N.H. Burial with military honors will be at a later date in Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, Mass.

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.

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