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Cynthia Wisehart on Bob Simpson

This is one of the most personal columns I’ll probably write here. Last month Bob Simpson, founder of Electrosonic passed away after a long life and career, leaving behind his wife Frances who likes a good canal boat trip and who has cooked my family lovely quiet dinners around the drop-leaf table at Darenth Cottage.

Bob was simply one of the single most important people in my family’s life. He was my husband’s mentor and countryman, with a technical imagination and purpose that shaped my husband as an engineer, Electrosonic also defined our family life of travel and adventure. Bob invited us into the center of seminal landmarks all over the world—from Spiderman and Harry Potter to the Holocaust and 911 Museums and too many more to count.

Though I have hundreds of images of Bob in my memory, it’s worth mentioning that in most of them he is wearing the beige suit that was his constant companion across the world.

Bob was a peripatetic presence in our industry and seemingly everywhere at once, whether inventing technology, working on design and installation, speaking at conferences, winning awards, or writing one of his exhaustively detailed books. In my experience he personified enthusiastic leadership—the kind that can’t help itself, carrying people along with his curiosity and analysis, welcoming anyone who had the same appetite for the work as he did, and expecting them to keep up and contribute. He had a great wealth of knowledge and it was a treat to hear him regale, but equally he encouraged others to trade the floor with him. He listened like a scientist, taking it all in, anticipating that others would, of course, bring him something interesting to think about.

Like many engineers, his worldliness was organic—a byproduct of chasing interesting things. He lived in a little village—Eynsford in Kent—but when you didn’t find him there at his local, he could be quite literally anywhere else in the world, often with my husband by his side. The last time I saw him before Covid was in New York, and before that in the Greenwich market where we celebrated the exact place where he had founded Electrosonic 50 years prior.

Of everything, I’m most grateful for the rewarding collaboration he shared with my husband, a rare meeting of minds across decades of mutual pioneering work. He gave my husband his biggest professional chance in life and then he shared it with him in a day-to-day and continuing way through the stages of both their lives, on planes, on site, in bars, by phone, by email, and in rack rooms, wherever the work led. A rare thing indeed, as Bob would say.

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