Veteran journalist Lawrie Simpkin, who joined the Leicester Mercury as chief football writer and retired 28 years later as the newspaper’s executive editor, has died, aged 69.
Simpkin was well-known in the city and county as a blunt-speaking journalist who took pride in being of the “old school”.
Born and educated in Nottingham, Simpkin became an apprentice journalist there before spending two years in the RAF Bomber Command as a non-commissioned officer.
After resuming his journalistic career, he worked in Grantham and Ilkeston, before joining the Mercury and developing close links with Leicester City Football Club, then under the successful management of Matt Gillies.
Although never losing his interest in sports of all kinds, Simpkin became news editor of the newspaper in 1969 and subsequently became assistant editor, deputy editor-in-chief and finally executive editor.
As the newspaper embraced new production methods and various technologies, he stressed to journalists the need to never lose sight of basic news values – “the stories people argue about in the pub”.
He could ruffle feathers or smooth them over as the search for a story demanded. “You’ll slide further on grease than on grit,” is a maxim he used more than once.
He won many friends who admired his public service, which went beyond his membership of Lions clubs. He was a member and training officer on the Home Office Board of Visitors at Glen Parva Young Offenders’ Centre, trained as an appropriate adult to help young people in police detention suites, and was lay assessor for the inspectorate of Leicestershire County Council in homes for children and older people.
He served as chairman and public relations organiser for Crimestoppers, Leicestershire and chaired the BBC Radio Leicester Advisory Council. He was a member of the BBC East Midlands Advisory Council and of the National Lottery Charities Board in the East Midlands.
After retirement in 1988, he set up a home-based public relations company, working with the Church of England, the Conservative Party and the Referendum Party.
Simpkin and his second wife Maureen have between them, but not together, five adult children.
Mercury editor Nick Carter said: ”Lawrie played a significant role in the development of this paper and was a mentor to many reporters who went on to make their own contributions to journalism. He understood the importance of a paper being involved in its community and his own involvement continued long after he retired.”
Neville Stack, editor of the Leicester Mercury from 1974 to 1987, wrote to the newspaper: “Lawrie was my deputy during most of my enjoyable years as editor. He was, in the best possible sense, an “old-fashioned newspaperman”, which meant he was tough, kind, innovative, outspoken, knowledgeable, energetic and ever-loyal to the Mercury and to me.
“Whole generations of journalists owe much to his guidance and firm, avuncular advice and I, too, learned much from him.
“His many good works included concern for the police and the other emergency public services, for young offenders and for the many good causes helped by the Lions.
“But above all, his zest for this fine local newspaper in turbulent times was an inspiration to all who saw Lawrie in vigorous action both inside the office and out on a big story.”
Civic society spokesman John Burrows said: “The death of Lawrie Simpkin robs me of a friend and Leicestershire of a gentle man and a gentleman.
“Above all, was his maxim ‘Tell the truth, and tell it straight. If asked something which you do not know, or which you cannot answer, say so at once. Flannel and falsehood will always be found out, to your cost’.”