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Owen Simon: a recollection

John Ford | 07.06.2018

BSA librarian John Ford remembers Owen Simon, a long-time member and supporter of BSA.

Owen SimonOwen Simon died on 18th March 2018. He had been a member of the Association almost since its inception, and was a fervent supporter of anything that helped people who stammer.

I first met him when we both belonged to a self-help group based at the Finsbury Health Centre in London in the mid-1980s. He was living in Hampstead. Owen was a very self-effacing person, so I did not know then that he had taken a double first in history at Cambridge and had a little later obtained a postgraduate qualification in economics at the LSE.

At that time he was working as an economic advisor at the Institution of Civil Engineers, though later on he became a Senior Economic Advisor at the Treasury. Later still he moved to Brighton, and joined a self-help stammering group there. Friends from this group attended his funeral, together with some from his Finsbury days.

Owen was very self-effacing, so I did not know then that he had taken a double first in history at Cambridge.

I remember little about him from our meetings at Finsbury Health Centre, perhaps because he was quiet and reserved and drew little attention to himself. I can find only one entry in my diary about him: “No Owen {today} alas: he has work problems.” Obviously I missed him, but nothing in my diary records why.

Then somehow I lost touch with him; perhaps we both ceased attending the group at roughly the same time. But I did not forget him. Somehow I learnt that he’d moved from his Hampstead flat to Southfields near Putney, before his move later to Brighton. He remained in the hinterland of my mind as someone I would like to meet again.

Chance encounter

And then I had the most amazing stroke of luck. Quite by chance, about 5 years ago, I met again Roy Tranckle, also a member of the group, a very longstanding member of the BSA who, I’m glad to say, is still with us. Not long after that, not quite so much by chance, Roy met Owen at a British Stammering Association conference in Lincoln, and introduced us again.

When I met Owen again, I saw almost at once how many interests we had in common which we had not been able to share in those intervening years. History was one: we had both taken history degrees at the same university though his was a better one than mine, a fact that he was very shy in referring to. His political views were roughly the same as mine. He loved going for long walks as I did, though sadly we never had the chance to do this together. He belonged to more than one walking group, and often led their walks, and members of these groups attended his funeral. I even shared his passion for railways, though maybe I wasn’t quite as passionate as he was. And then of course there was the fact that we both stammered. Although most people who stammer usually have many friends, even close friends, who don’t stammer, there is at least one level at which it takes a stammerer to understand a stammerer. Our shared bitterness – perhaps sadness might be a better word – at our speech problems, and our mutual understanding of them, was an extremely valuable common bond.

But then there were other things, even more important. I’m not talking here about his obvious acute intelligence, although of course that is a valuable thing to have. No: he had two qualities that are especially rare in human beings. First, he was supremely tactful in a way that was not obvious and which did not draw attention to himself. Second, he had a very independent mind, capable of looking at any problem or situation anew, and always prepared to consider seriously any idea, ridiculous or not, that I might put forward. If he disagreed with me, he was always very reasonable about it. Finally, when he knew that death was not far away, he was extremely calm and brave about it.

I hope his spirit will forgive me for praising him in a way he would have hated!

This is why I feel so sad at Owen’s absence. And I hope his spirit will forgive me for praising him in a way he would have hated! But I feel particularly sad – and angry too – that there will be no more day trips to places such as Winchester or Stamford, and above all, no more lunches where three retired people – not forgetting Roy – can chat and mull and drink as much as they they wish and not worry about arriving at work a little tipsy at three o’clock in the afternoon. Farewell, Owen!