South Tahoe jeweler dies: Phil Simpson served community for decades
November 4, 2005
Longtime businessman Phil Simpson, whose sales pitch on television commercials exclaimed that if you’re not buying diamonds from Simpson’s Jewelers, “you’re paying too much,” died Thursday night in Barton Memorial Hospital after a nearly two-year bout with lung cancer.
He was 69.
He genially would serve complimentary beer and wine to help relax customers. He sold jewelry to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lewis.
“He was a very, very dear person and very thoughtful person,” said his wife of 39 years, Esther. “A very helpful person.”
The UC Berkeley graduate used his degree in business administration in joining the family business. His father was a jeweler who had 14 stores throughout Northern California. Phil was managing 10 of them by the time he was 25 years old.
“He was an extremely intelligent person,” said longtime friend Don Defeo, who met Phil in college in 1955. “He had an IQ that went through the roof and he could party and socialize and still get good grades because he was so darn smart, which was wonderful for him.”
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In 1966 Phil moved to Tahoe, got married and opened his store near Stateline on Lake Tahoe Boulevard. He liked the festivity of jewelry sales, he once said.
“It’s a happy business,” he said in a June 2004 interview with the Tribune. “Either they are getting married or it’s Christmas and they are getting a gift or it’s a birthday. It’s always a happy purchase.”
A year ago Phil moved his business into the Heavenly Village Center. He designed the layout of the new store in a location he valued because of its ease of parking for Tahoe residents.
“It’s probably the most beautiful jewelry store I’ve ever seen,” friend Loren Graham said. “He was really proud of that.”
Ask anybody who knew Phil and they’ll mention his love for golf. A member of Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, Phil would schedule outings every Tuesday and Sunday during the playing season with friend Steve McMorris.
“You get to know somebody when you’re around them five hours a day chasing that silly little ball around,” McMorris said.
Words like philosophical, generous and unique were words used to describe Phil, who had famous sayings like “It won’t matter in 100 years” to reason with people and “Never, never, never give up.”
McMorris remembered how Phil would tell tourists in their golfing group about his hole-in-one on the 17th hole at Edgewood.
Phil last golfed in Hawaii last month with Defeo and Graham. The two recalled how their friend would load up on pain killers and steroids to get through a golf outing. Phil played every day he was in Hawaii and even got the better of the group, which was dubbed “The Three Musketeers.”
Golf led Phil and friends to take a trip to St. Andrews in Scotland.
“That was one of his little dreams and it came true,” Esther said.
His other love, boating, was satisfied with three boats he owned, including a cruiser and Chris Craft that he bought in 1960.
Television commercials made Phil a celebrity in Tahoe.
“No matter where he’d go everybody would say ‘hi,'” Graham said. “Phil wouldn’t know their names but would return the greeting.”
His wife said she intends to continue the business.
Two of his employees offered heartfelt words about their boss.
Tracy Halstead characterized Simpson as the fairest person she’s ever worked for.
“He was also very funny, and I don’t think many people got to see that side of him,” she said.
“I can’t believe how lucky I have been to work for such a kind-hearted man. Phil had a special understanding for all his customers. I only hope in heaven there is an Edgewood Golf course with endless greens,” Ladonna Rebbe said.
He was admitted to Barton Memorial Hospital six days before he died. Defeo said he slept in a recliner situated in the hospital room and hold his friend’s hand.
“It’s going to be a big hole in my life,” Defeo said.
McMorris said he was playing golf in Genoa with Phil when the jeweler’s cell phone rang. It was a doctor. X-rays showed a growth in Phil’s lungs.
“He just finished off the day,” McMorris said. “Shot a 42 off the back and it was just the way he dealt with it. Maybe courage is too strong of a word but when my time comes I want to be as strong as he was.”
– Staff writer Susan Wood contributed to this report.
Simpson Memorial Service
Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course
2 p.m., Thursday