Victims advocate Simpson remembered as compassionateWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
One word that comes up frequently when friends and family discuss Russ Simpson, a longtime advocate for crime victims who died March 12, is compassion.
“[Russ] had more compassion and sympathy for people than anybody you know,” said Russ’ wife Pat. “He was a strong, caring, giving man.”
Former Lucas County Sheriff and Russ’ longtime friend James Telb said, “He had some issues with the way victims were being treated, by law enforcement, by the court, by the prosecutor and by the social agencies, and he wanted to get some help and he wanted his voice heard. He wanted to bring compassion.
“The concern and the compassion is not going to go away that he instilled in the folks of the criminal justice system.”
Russ, 78, died after having a heart attack at his home. He was expected to undergo open-heart surgery March 14. He had recently received word that his son David Simpson, who was battling terminal cancer, was not doing well. David died March 18, the day of Russ’ funeral.
Two of Russ’ other children had been murdered in separate incidents. Stacy, 4, was strangled to death by a neighbor in 1969 and Scott, a 19-year-old security guard, was shot trying to stop a shoplifter in 1981.
“I think it just broke [Russ’] heart to lose another child and I don’t think he could take that,” Pat said.
The couple, who has four grandchildren, would have been married 55 years on March 29. They met at Libbey High School.
Russ and Pat started the local chapter of Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) in 1983.
“Just helping other people get through their grief was really a big part of my father. I really believe that was his therapy,” said his daughter Linda Simpson.
Russ was instrumental in starting the Lucas County Victim/Witness Assistance program and was a facilitator for the Office of Victims Services with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. He also served as chair and state coordinator of the National Board of POMC, helping to start the founding of chapters in Indiana, Florida and Utah.
In addition to his work for victims’ rights, Russ drove for Greyhound Lines for more 20 years, before retiring in 1990. He also helped out at the Eleanor Kahle Senior Center.
Lynn Carder, executive director of Lucas County Victim/Witness Assistance, said Russ often went to schools to speak for the Victims’ Forum Program: Reaching Youth to Prevent Violence.
“Kids just absolutely hung on every word when he would speak,” she said.
Russ also worked with the Victim Offender Dialogue program, which gives victims a chance to speak to perpetrators.
Carder said that Russ was helping a victim’s family get information they needed when he died.
“In recent years, he was becoming more of an activist. He was looking at things from a legislative standpoint,” Carder said. “He had seen families be put out of the court systems, and the justice system doesn’t always work the way you want.”
After becoming sheriff in 1985, Telb said, he and Russ became reacquainted. The two had grown up near each other and both attended Libbey although Russ was a little older than Telb.
“He was very intense. I knew him for 50 years, and he wasn’t always that intense. He was kind of a happy-go-lucky guy as a young guy, growing up,” Telb recalled.
“When I became sheriff we kind of merged a little back into our old friendships,” he said. “We talked about what programs he was involved in and if there was anything the Sheriff’s Office could do to help out and we bonded real quickly and the rest is kind of history.
“He convinced us we weren’t doing what we were supposed to do in regards to our approach to victims,” Telb said. “The way we approached victims was changed forever.”
Telb said Russ was a frequent presence in the courthouse, making sure he was there for victims.
One of those victims was Gabe Burgete, who now leads the local POMC chapter. Burgete’s son General Hurst was shot and killed in 2006.
“[Russ] knew how to talk to me. He knew how to let me get my anger out and he talked to me as he knew what he was doing and he comforted me and my son’s mother,” Burgete said, adding that David would also sit with him in court.
Russ encouraged Burgete to become chapter leader and coached him along the way.
“He explained everything to me and he was always there for me, whether it was good or bad. He knew how to listen to people; he knew how to comfort people.”
Leslie Robinson, whose son Dionious Robinson died after being shot in 2005, said he also plans to continue Russ’ work. Robinson joined POMC about a year after his son’s death.
“I was very angry, very angry. I didn’t feel that I had justice. I didn’t have justice. And there was this race issue that I had and I felt black-on-black crime was treated differently and Russ was one of the first ones to say, ‘You’re absolutely right,’” Robinson said.
The two men became so close they called each other “Brother” and Robinson was a pallbearer at Russ’ funeral. Robinson now runs his own advocacy group called Equal Justice for All.
‘A long road’
“[Victims’ rights] still has a long road but it’s a road that’s now moving forward because of [Russ]. I know I’m still moving forward because of him,” Robinson said.
Linda remembers a different side of Russ — she remembers a father.
Russ loved to travel, bowl and fish, she said. He was also an avid cardplayer.
“Till the day he died, he sat there at the kitchen table and played solitaire,” she said.
“Even though he was a Greyhound bus driver on the road, he was still involved. With my brother when he played basketball, he still went to all his games and when I played CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) softball as a kid, he would come to my games.”
She added, “The best times that I would remember is when he would come home at midnight and we would sit there at the kitchen table and play gin rummy.”
The local POMC chapter is having a motorcycle run on April 21 at Toledo Speedway to kick off National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Registration is 9-11:45 a.m. and the bikes leave on their 65-mile journey at noon. There will also be food and raffle prizes. Tickets are $20 per rider, $10 per passenger, $5 for ages 6-14 and those younger than 6 get in for free. For more information, call (419) 309-7759.