Des Simon 1916-2017.
Des Simon was a very well-known Academy Old Boy who lived to the remarkable age of 101 years. Through himself and his family he had an almost lifelong connection with Belfast Royal Academy until his death in December 2017.
Des was born on the 19th September 1916 at his parents’ home in Knutsford Drive, Cliftonville, Belfast. In September 1921 he entered the Belfast Royal Academy Preparatory Department which at that time was located in the Crombie Building. In 1926 Des temporarily left the Academy when his father moved to England with his work and was based in Sheffield. For over a year Des went to a school there, but when the family returned to Northern Ireland Des resumed his studies at the Academy.
Des thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of his education at the Academy. In the extra-curricular sphere he was a keen member of the choir and an enthusiastic and talented sportsman. As a member of a talented musical family, his brother Geoffrey was a gifted violinist, Des competed regularly at musical festivals. In sport, Des participated in rugby and in his final year was vice-captain of the 1st XI cricket team. Des attended the Upper School at the Academy from 1928 to 1934 when Mr A R Foster was Principal, and Mr Foster’s view that extra-curricular activities, particularly sport, were integral to the all-round development of pupils gave Des great encouragement to participate in a variety of activities.
On leaving School Des went to England and worked for Batchelor Foods which based in Sheffield. After several years he returned to Belfast and worked with his father in the same company. Following the retirement of his father Des became the Northern Ireland Area manager of Batchelors, a position which he held with great success until his own retirement in 1977.
In 1941 Des married May Woolfenden who was from Manchester. They had two children, Geoffrey and Shirley, and following his own very positive experience Des ensured that they attended the Academy as well. His grandchildren, Jonathan and Nicholas Simon and Rachel and Michael Haslett followed suit as have great grandchildren Alex and Sophia Simon, Nicholas’s children, who are currently at Ben Madigan. Des took great pride in the achievements of all his family, in particular Jonathan playing rugby for Ireland Schools and Michael captaining the Schools’ Cup winning team in 1997.
Beyond his family Des’s main interests were hockey and cricket. He was a player in both games at the Cliftonville Club but it was as a hockey administrator that Des gained a renowned reputation. Des filled many positions in Ulster and Ireland hockey over the years including being President of the Irish Hockey Union, Honorary Secretary of the Ulster Branch, Chairman of the Ireland selection committee and being an International umpire. For his services to hockey Des was made an Honorary Life Member of the Irish Hockey Union and the Ulster Branch in 1988, reflecting the high regard in which he was held.
Well into his later years Des continued to support several activities in the Old Boys’ Association and continued to have an interest in the School. He was delighted in May 2015 when asked by the Headmaster at that time, Mr Moore Dickson, to unveil the plaque marking the Founding of the Belfast Academy. This plaque is located in Academy Street, Belfast, close to where the original School stood.
Des was a regular attender at the Old Boys’ Annual Dinner and the Old Boys’ monthly lunches and he felt honored to be elected an Honorary Vice-President of the Old Boys’ Association. At the Old Boys’ Lunch in September 2016 at the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club Des was delighted when he was invited as a special guest in recognition and celebration of his 100th birthday.
In his remarkable life Des Simon had many, long and strong connections. However, none was as long as his proud 96 year connection with the Academy which started just prior to his 5th birthday in 1921 and lasted until his death in December 2017. A service of Thanksgiving was held in Whitehouse Presbyterian Church on the 3rd January 2018 with many of the Academy community in attendance.