A discussion of the Research Triangle Park’s founding must include several names – one of whom died on Dec. 13.

George L. Simpson, Jr.

In a 2009 speech, IBM Senior State Executive Bob Greenberg remembered the Park’s founders at it observed 50 years of existence.

“A dream of North Carolina visionaries such as Romeo Guest and Luther Hodges, Archie Davis and George Simpson – to stop the ‘brain drain’ of North Carolina graduates leaving the state – by developing the land between three major universities – UNC, North Carolina State University and Duke University into a world – class R&D Mecca.

“Did it work? Did it ever,” Greenberg recalled.

Simpson, remembered as a primary founder and the “brains” behind the founding of RTP and who served as its first executive director, died following a lengthy illness.

In an obituary published by Simpson’s family, his role in the Park’s founding was recounted.

“At that time, Governor Luther Hodges and others were seeking to improve the economy of North Carolina by using the research capabilities of UNC, what was then NC State College, and Duke University to attract technology-based companies to the state.

“To that end, the Research Triangle Committee was created in 1956 to establish a research park in the center of the geographic triangle formed by the three institutions, and George was appointed the Committee’s first Executive Director. In that capacity, he led the initial efforts to establish what we now know as the Research Triangle Foundation and Research Triangle Park.

“These initial efforts culminated in 1958 and early 1959 with the incorporation of the Foundation, the creation of the Research Triangle Institute, and Chemstrand Corporation’s agreement to become the Park’s first tenant. Much work remained to be done, but a corner had been turned. These successes were due to the hard and persistent work of a great many people, too many to name here. He would be upset, however, if the singular contributions of Bill Little, Pearson Stewart, and Elizabeth Aycock were not acknowledged.

“His own role in these successes was nevertheless critical. As historians of the Research Triangle have said, if Governor Hodges was the heart of the Triangle, George became the brains, translating the Research Triangle dream into a concrete plan and leading the way in implementing it.”

In a history of the Park, longtime UNC President William Friday recalled Simpson being named to the post.

“I just never had any question about it,” Friday is quoted as saying in a history of RTP commissioned by the Research Triangle Foundation and cited by The News and Observer in its obituary. “I didn’t even think about anybody else.”

“[I]f Governor Hodges was the heart, Simpson became the brain, of the Triangle,” Albert N. Link wrote in a 1995 book about the park that was published by the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina. The Triangle Business Journal cited the book in its story about Simpson. 

Simpson returned to UNC’s faculty in 1959, taught there until 1962, joined NASA and then in 1965 was named chancellor of the University System of Georgia. He held that job until 1979.

A native of North Carolina, Simpson was born on Oct. 27, 1921 in Concord. He graduated from UNC in 1941 and earned a Masters Degree in 1944. 

Simpson is survived by his wife Louise and sons George and Joe, who live in Raleigh, plus several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

A celebration of Simpson’s life is scheduled Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Carolina Country Club. A private burial is scheduled for Wednesday in Concord.