By Maxim Furek
A good friend of the running community passed away on Monday, June 14, 2021. Leonard “Len” Simpson was a frequent participant in regional races, competing in the seventy-and-over category. He was blessed with a runner’s physique, 6’ 3” and 165 pounds.
Simpson, Sullivan County’s district attorney, graduated from Bloomsburg High School in 1968, Gettysburg College in 1971, and the Cumberland School of Law of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1974. His life was dedicated to practicing law and supporting his community and family, including his best friend and wife, Robin, who said, “He was a good man. I was blessed to have had him in my life.”
Simpson took his competitive running to another level. He competed in fifty-two 5Ks in a year, several years in a row. He ran a 32:24 at the 2020 St. Columba Leprechaun Loop 5K and took 3rd place at the 2021 Susquehanna Warrior Trail 5K with a 33:56.
What was Len’s favorite race? Robin Simpson said: “He loved them all. I don’t know if he had a favorite one. I do know he loved the St. Columba one in Bloomsburg because he went to school there. He never missed that. He was just so glad that COVID was easing some of the restrictions and was very anxious to get out there running again.”
Len was a jokester with a keen sense of humor and a little-boy lust for life. He was a generous, spontaneous free spirit and one of the good guys. He listened attentively and made you feel that he was your closest friend. That was his gift. Berwick’s running ambassador Rick Hueholt agreed, saying: ‘He had an infectious grin and made me feel like the most important part of his pre-race ritual was talking to me.”
Hueholt added, “Len was a longtime sponsor of St. Columba’s Leprechaun Loop and a graduate of the St. Columba school.”
Columbia-Montour President Judge Tom James, also an avid runner, went to high school with Simpson recollected: “We were friends from high school. It’s not an exaggeration to say he was probably the best shooter ever to play basketball in Sullivan County and one of the best basketball shooters from this area. I have lots of great Lennie stories. He hated running in high school but got into it big time in middle age. It helped him stay young. He was a unique person and a good man.”
James said that Len was going to retire at the end of the year. He had served as Sullivan County’s District Attorney for thirty years.
Another prolific runner, Herb Kline, participated in numerous races with Simpson, including the Griffin Run at Lake Makoma. He said: “I had run into Len at many races in the region over the years. He was easy and pleasant to talk to. Len was a steadfast runner who was committed to the sport and very much part of the running community. He will definitely be missed.”
Lennie ran his final race on Williamsport’s Bowman Field. The 10th Annual Cutter 5K, held on June 12, 2021, was organized by John Engel, who witnessed the tragedy:
“When we heard somebody had collapsed, it was fairly close to the start, probably within the first mile. When I first got there, I got in my truck and drove over to where he was. We were there until the ambulance came.”
Engel said that Simpson’s stepdaughter, Jade Heisman, said that Len had had a great morning and was in great spirits. The weather was perfect for running, overcast and cool.
Director Engel reflected: “Len passed away doing something that he enjoyed and loved doing. Seventy-two seems awful young to me, but with him being seventy-two, we’re going to add a seventy and over group. We’ll call it ‘The Len Simpson Category.’”
Len often raced in his signature bright red Dushore Founders Day “I Ran the Hill” T-shirt. “He ran because he just had so much energy,” said Robin. “He never sat still. He was afraid that if he stopped, he wouldn’t start again. He just kept going. That man had so much energy. I told him that if he didn’t run, he would probably drive me crazy,” she quipped. “The blessing in this is that he was able to do what he loved to do.”
There will be a celebration of his dedication to his family, career, and community on January 1, 2022, at 2 p.m. at the LaPorte Volunteer Fire Hall, Laporte, PA. In place of flowers or memorial donations, the family requests that you take the time to be with your family, make someone laugh, and be active in your community. Funeral arrangements are under the direction of the Homer Funeral Home, 206 Water St., Dushore, PA 18614.
Maxim Furek is a Rock Journalist and former marathon runner who completed twelve of these 26.2 events. His best times were at the 1987 Marine Corps Marathon with a 3:13 and the 1992 Vermont City Marathon with a 3:15. His website is http://www.maximfurek.com