By RON FANFAIR
Leroy Simpson passed away doing what he loved best just hours before his 48th birthday.
The Jamaican-born Brampton pilot and father of four sons died two weeks ago in an ultra light plane crash in northern Ontario. He and Grzegorz Kardasz of Richmond Hill perished when the two-seater crashed in a farmer’s field in Clearview Township between Barrie and Stayner.
An experienced pilot, Simpson learned to fly at the Brampton Flying Club (BFC) and earned his glider’s pilot license in 1980, his ultra light license four years later and a private pilot license in 1996.
Eight years ago, Simpson escaped serious injury when he crashed a rented Cessna A152 on an airstrip he built in Springwater, just north of Barrie. Transport Canada disciplined Simpson and the BFC suspended him for a year for failing to seek its permission to land at a private airstrip.
Last Saturday, family, friends and schoolmates gathered at a Weston Road church to celebrate Simpson’s life.
Canadian Armed Forces Warrant Officer Kevin Junor and Sgt. Delroy Gordon led the family procession into the overflowing church of about 300 mourners that included former Toronto Argonauts Clifford Ivory and Orlando Bowen and long time friend Courtney Quarrie who has fond memories of Simpson whom he met at George Harvey Collegiate Institute nearly three decades ago.
“Leroy was an air cadet, he played football and he was a member of the school band where he played the piano and trombone,” recalled Quarrie, a pallbearer. “He was just a great all-round person with a pleasant personality and big smile.
“We remained in touch over the years and I was impressed with the way he embraced his community and was always keen to provide an opportunity for young people.”
Businessman David Ayres developed a relationship with Simpson 10 years ago at the United Achievers Club of Brampton’s annual Celebrity Chef Men Who Cook fundraiser.
“After that meeting, he joined me at The Becel Heart & Stroke Ride for Heart event and I was among a group of people that attended a retreat for young men at a camp in Barrie three years ago to give them some positive reinforcement. Leroy was a man with a big heart who cared about youths and their development.”
Community activist Winston LaRose remembers flying with Simpson to Nova Scotia five years ago for the fourth annual Canadian Critical Race Relations conference.
“We flew in a four-seater single engine plane that he rented,” recalls the Jane-Finch Concerned Citizens Organization (JFCCO) executive director. “We stopped over in Montreal and Prince Edward Island before flying into Halifax and the entire flight going and coming was absolutely peaceful and still. Leroy even gave me some flying tips on the two-way, nine-hour flight which I thoroughly enjoyed. A few months later, he took me on another flight over Lake Ontario.”
LaRose’s first encounter with Simpson was at a National Council of Jamaicans & Supportive Organizations in Canada event at the Jamaican Canadian centre nine years ago.
“He was there as a pilot and businessman and we became friends,” said LaRose, who runs the JFCCO out of an office at Yorkgate Mall in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood.
“Leroy approached me for permission to install a flight simulator there and after about a year, he moved it to the Marcus Garvey Centre nearby because he needed a larger space…He did some amazing work in our community and it’s sort of sad that a lot of it went under the radar.”
In 1999, Annie Bynoe helped Simpson secure significant federal funding that provided flight training for 20 Black youth through Avitec, an aviation company he owned.
“All of those young people graduated from the training program and are doing well in the aviation industry,” said Bynoe. “Leroy was passionate about his craft and helping young people, particularly Black males get involved in positive endeavours. He was a great role model and true community person.”
Debi Blair met Simpson in Grade 7 at Arlington Middle School in the early 1970s.
“He was a jokester and real fun guy back then,” she said. “The funny thing is that Leroy used to be the butt of the jokes, but he took them in stride and laughed along with us. He also had a passion for flying back then.”
Friend David Jones said Simpson loved music and he could play almost any instrument.
“He also owned a few trucks which he drove around the country,” added Jones.
Simpson, who came to Canada in 1973 and also established the Tuskegee Airmen Aviation museum in Peel, is survived by sons Leroy Jr., Tyrone, Jermaine and Daniel.
“Dad was my everything and I and my brothers were looking forward to taking him for dinner on his birthday,” said eldest son Leroy. “We were already making plans to do something real big for him for his 50th birthday.”