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Alan Simpson
Alan Simpson
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Alan Simpson Interview (page: 3 / 9)

Statesman and Advocate

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  Alan Simpson

Your family were pioneers in Montana. Your father wasn't just a lawyer, he was a governor and a senator. Were there high expectations for you?

Alan Simpson: Oddly enough, it never put the heat on me for that.

I wanted to be a lawyer since I was five years old. I saw a man that loved his work. My dad, his bitter disappointment was that he was -- he'd been in the Army in the First World War, but not overseas -- and then the second war came, and he was 44, and he tried desperately to get in again, and they wouldn't let him. He said, "Look, I'll come in as JAG, or captain in the reserves, but I want to serve." He was a very patriotic man. Born in Jackson, Wyoming in 1897. And I saw that disappointment. Then my first cousin was killed in Wake Island and the old man cried. I hadn't seen that -- at ten years old -- much. So he was a man of great soul, and earthy. He loved limericks and poems, and the doggerel and stuff that was just a riot. But I just wanted to get a law degree, and I went to university, and I didn't do well at all in the first year. I finally went to the dean, and I said, "Look, maybe you're trying to knock me off, but I'm going to get a law degree if I have to go to Panhandle A&M." "Oh," he said, "You can't talk to me like that." I said, "Well, I am talking to you like that. I study with these guys; they get As, I get Cs. I'm tired of it. Just because my old man's on the board of trustees of the university, you're screwing me. That's what you're doing." Well, that didn't go over too well. But I got the law degree and then I ran for the legislature. Practiced law for five years. And I thought, "Well, here we go." I worked very hard. Nothing came easy to me in academics. I was not brilliant. I am not a brilliant man, although I have been inoculated against BS, and it has served me well. It is a blessing of common sense that I have been given, and a brightness.

My brother, who just kind of had a tougher time sorting it out, he went to Stanford Law School. He was admitted. He didn't like that at all. And he did that for Pop. But I never saw Pop push him. And of course, he's a guitar player, he's a marvelous singer. He's a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and he went to Stanford, and he played at the Hungry I. He said, "This is a wonderful school. You only take one final at the end of the year." Well, when he took it, they took him. And old Pete said, "Yeah, that was a great year, though." So then he went on to his first love. He went to Oregon University and took a degree in Western American history, and a doctorate in Western American History. He's a historian. He's a storyteller. He's magnificent. So the two of us ended up doing what we wanted to do, and now they want us to come to the University of Wyoming, our alma mater, and teach a course on the history and politics of Wyoming. Our great-grandfather, Finn Burnett, came here with the Connor expedition and was a peddler of booze and tobacco and boots at Fort Phil Kearney. He was a settler. Wonderful man from all I know. He died when I was two. And when my mom's dad came here, he was an immigrant from Holland and started a little coal-mining town called Kooi, and you still see the leftovers. That's right outside of Sheridan. Ann's grandfather came here and brought the first ring-necked pheasants, brought them to Shell, Wyoming. So it's a young state, and so we're going to do that, that'll be fun. And we'll have little field trips and drag them all around Wyoming and show them where all the relatives lived and hid.

They worked with the Indians. My great-grandfather was the boss farmer for Chief Washakie on the Indian reservation, the Shoshone reservation, and started the first Masonic lodge in South Pass City. It's a rich heritage, and a rich state of wonderful people. Ornery, articulate, thoughtful, opinionated people. I think we're the eighth or ninth state in the union with more people with a twelfth grade education or above. The cowboys? The teachers came out here on the summer vacations, married the cowboys and raised a strain of people that are very ornery, and articulate, and pesky, and fun. They do like to have fun.

Are you the oldest brother?

Alan Simpson: No, my brother's 13 months older than I.

Was there any sibling rivalry?

Alan Simpson: No, we had our fight. Any brothers are going to have a fight, and boy, we had one. He pounded me up. He still talks about it. Strange, here we are, 66 and 67. He'll say, "God, Al, I didn't mean to. I still can feel it." I said, "Yeah, well I can still feel it, too." Boy, the slug and the blood, and then we never touched each other again, because it hurt both of us. I had two sons. When they were about 19, 17, they had a fight one night. Just beat the hell out of each other. They never did it again, and they practice law together. They're partners in the law practice in Cody, Wyoming, where 100 years of Simpsons have practiced law. Pete has a richer sense of humor than I do. He's the most magnificent humorist, and a very talented actor. He and his wife -- she was a dancer -- they do plays, and they just finished The Gin Game, which is a very powerful play. Irma La Douce, John Brown's Body, Emily Dickinson, the whole works. Very talented, both of them. They're fun.

Who were your role models when you were growing up?

Alan Simpson: My father. People who were in Cody, Wyoming, who you would never have heard of. People who played city baseball, Snooks McDonald. Role models you had as a kid in Cody were people who said hello to you when they were 40 years old and treated you like a decent person. I never forgot any of those people who, when you were a kid -- a snot-nosed, ornery, sloppy, hell-raising kid -- would come up to you, put their hand on your head and say, "How are you doing, Al? What's up in your life?" You know, pay attention to you. That's a community. There were more than several of those kind of people. Silver-haired first grade teacher, I never forgot her. I didn't have to go out into the cosmos to find them. Found them right in Cody, Wyoming. I think most people really find them in the smaller towns, or Red Hook in Brooklyn, wherever you grow up. Teachers, parents. And then we all had the baseball and the football players. Those weren't really role models, but you had their pictures all over the wall.

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This page last revised on Jul 06, 2012 14:47 EST
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