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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Ward Simpson honoured with Living Landmark award
Paul Dickson presents Ward Simpson with a map of Ireland, flags of the north and south, and other paraphernalia during his Living Landmark introduction at the Niagara Foundation's celebration on Saturday night. KEVIN MACLEAN

The urge to help just seems to be in Ward Simpson’s blood.

The longtime Niagara-on-the-Lake pharmacist was honoured on Saturday night with the Niagara Foundation’s 2023 Living Landmark award, for his nearly 50 years of community building.

The founder of Simpson’s Pharmacy was singled out for this year’s award in recognition of a long list of achievements centred around helping to make Niagara-on-the-Lake a better place.

“Leading by example, he has not only worked tirelessly himself, but has galvanized countless others to get involved themselves,” the foundation said in a testimonial in the evening’s program.

The 79-year-old, a perennial star of the town’s Christmas Parade and rumoured to be a close friend of Santa himself, might best be known for his many years of work with Red Roof Retreat and for fundraising in the community.

But he’s also been a Citizen of the Year, earned the Rotary Club’s prestigious Paul Harris Award twice, received the NOTL Lions Melvin Jones Award, chaired the NOTL Sports Wall of Fame and St. Vincent de Paul parish council, been a Virgil Business Association member and a lifelong member of the Chamber of Commerce.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

He was introduced to the crowd by longtime friend and golf buddy Paul Dickson, who colourfully reminisced about some of their trips together to Ireland.

Then, in a sometimes hilarious, often self-deprecating and at times poignant speech to a crowd of about 160 at a black-tie dinner at the Court House, Simpson emphasized how family made a difference in his life.

His own family looms large, including his wife Oresta (“she should be the Living Landmark,” he said), their children Lisa and Sean (both pharmacists) and grandchildren Luke and Natalie.

Then there was the family who comprised the pharmacy’s staff (including Elly Forbes, “who started with me one week after I opened the store” and is still there) and the family of volunteers from his many community endeavours – from the Virgil Stampede to his church, to endless fundraising committees.

But it all started for him long before that.

“I was fortunate to have 10 parents. Mom Mary and dad Sherman (a pharmacist) were the primary parents, but being the last of nine children, I had five brothers and three sisters as co-parents,” he said.

Jim, Jane, John, Muriel, Kirk, Hugh, Paul, Margaret – and Ward.

“All set examples for me” – though we might have to wait for his memoirs to learn more about the incident involving his brothers “setting fire to the Welland River.”

While the evening’s spotlight was on Simpson, he shared it by singling out many of those who play key roles in the community, including Red Roof founders Steffanie and Moe Bjorgan.

“This small charity with a big heart provides special care for children with special needs,” Simpson noted.

“Through respite care, day programs, day trips, camps etc., the children who participate are treated to very special times,” he said.

“When these children arrive at Red Roof their eyes brighten up, smiles come to their faces and, more importantly, smiles come to the faces of the staff there to look after them.”

He also touched on how NOTL has changed over the past four decades, remarking on the town’s charm, “majestic Queen Street” and those working hard to maintain the area’s quaintness.

With Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa and a handful of council members in attendance, he asked them to protect the community he’s been so involved in, urging them to be “firm” in their zoning decisions and to remember, “No means no.”

*****

Past Living Landmark recipients were: Jim Alexander (2022), Penny Coles (2021), the Citizens of NOTL (2020), Gracia Janes (2019), Judy MacLachlan (2018), Dr. Richard Merritt (2017), Norma Jane Lowrey and Blair Harber (2016), Gary Burroughs (2015), Debi Pratt (2014), Jim Smith (2013), Peter Stokes (2012), Christopher Newton (2011), Joy Ormsby (2010), John Walker (2009), Calvin Rand (2008), Donald Combe (2007) and Norm Howe and Gerry Wooll (2006).

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