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Bernie Simpson ’54, star athlete, former basketball coach and English teacher, dies at 81

From left: Bernie Simpson and his classmate George Marchand.

Bernard “Bernie” Simpson ’54, a former student body president and champion athlete and coach, died Feb. 28 at the age of 81 surrounded by loved ones.

Born Oct. 11, 1936, in Omaha, he moved to San Francisco with his family and attended Notre Dame des Victoires School until 1950 before going on to SI, where he played baseball and basketball all four years. He played 120s basketball for Rene Herrerias ‘44 as a freshman; when Rene moved to the varsity team, Bernie played for him the next three years, culminating in the championship 1954 season and a Tournament of Champions title. He also helped coach Grove Mohr’s baseball team win the AAA title, the first since 1930.

He went on to Cal, where he played on the NCAA championship baseball team in 1957 and the 1959 national championship basketball team, coached by Pete Newell. He later earned entry into the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame for his athletic prowess.

He was a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy and married Jacqueline Minenna in 1960. They had two sons, Craig and Chris, and a daughter, Dana Freudenberger.

He returned to SI in 1962 to teach English and coach the boys’ basketball team. In 1965, he led the squad in one of the key games in the history of the school when SI beat SH with a last-second basket by Bob Portman ‘65 (Creighton, NBA Warriors). The victory led to an AAA championship and a place in the Tournament of Champions, where SI beat Gilroy and Richmond before losing the crown to Fremont of Oakland.

“Coach Simpson was known as an excellent tactician who promoted aggressive play with multiple presses,” said former SI Principal Charlie Dullea ’65, who played for Bernie. “He was fun to play and practice for, though he was always tough. He made his good players even better, including my teammate who would go on to play for the Warriors.”

Bernie later earned a master’s degree from SFSU and coached at Laney College and Seattle University. His players remember him as an exceptionally knowledgeable, skillful and passionate coach. He later went into sales and retired as regional sales manager at Cerro Copper in San Francisco.

A Memorial Mass at St. Ignatius Church was offered April 14 for him and his second wife, the late Dona J. Simpson, who died Nov. 9, 2016. The couple are survived by Bernie’s three children, Dona’s two children, 11 grandchildren, 3 great-grandchildren and lifelong friends. 

Posted by Mr. Paul J. Totah on Monday April 2
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