Grady Simpson, pictured below, didn’t grow up intent on spending most of his life in law enforcement, but an auto accident gave him that opportunity, and it resulted in a 32 year career, during which he became a respected and beloved Norcross community leader, and worked diligently to provide a safe environment for the town’s residents. This is his story.
Grady Harry Simpson was born on his parents’ farm along the Chattahoochee River in the Pinckneyville District of Gwinnett County on June 29, 1904. (This area is today the Simpsonwood property that Grady’s aunt Ludie Simpson donated to the Methodist Church late in her life, but that is a story for another day.) He grew up along the river, learning to hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors. He married Carrie Sue Westbrook, who grew up nearby, on December 7, 1933 and together they had two daughters, Jane Holbrook and Margaret Babb.
As a young man he worked as a security guard in Florida, but by 1937 he had moved back to the Norcross area. In November of that year then-Norcross Police Chief Homer Green was injured in an early morning car crash, and Green died from his injuries a few days later. The Norcross City Council needed someone who was reliable to take over the police position for the city, and they turned to Grady Simpson, who was 33 years old at the time. A delegation consisting of Mayor Mert Dodd and several city councilmen went to visit Grady at his home one evening, and by the end of the meeting they had “drafted” Grady to take over the city job.
The position that Grady Simpson accepted with the city in 1937 was not just that of a law enforcement officer. Norcross had only around 900 residents at the time, and the town’s policeman was expected to not only enforce order – he was to read electric and water meters, attend to the city water and sewage pumps on a daily basis, and generally keep an eye on the place. His job offer stated that he was to be on call at all times, was to be present at all public gatherings, was to conduct his private affairs in a manner becoming to an officer of the law, and was to furnish his own uniform. In the first years on the job Chief Simpson furnished his own car as well as uniform, and there was not a police radio system at that time, so he was without radio contact while on patrol. He had one week off in the summer. He had a monthly salary of $115.00.
It was city policy that employees had to live in the city in those days, so the family moved from the farm to town after Chief Simpson was hired. Grady Simpson’s daughter Jane Holbrook remembers growing up in downtown Norcross, living in homes on Thrasher (then Railroad) Street (which was unpaved when her dad came to work for the city). They at first lived in a since-demolished home where the Cobblestone at Col. Jones Park homes are located. The family later moved down the street to the house at 71 Thrasher Street, which Grady’s father Harry had purchased from the Medlock family in 1935. This house is pictured below.
The Norcross police force consisted of two people in 1937 – Grady Simpson as Chief, and Tilley Smith, who had worked with Homer Green, as his assistant. Tilley Smith was mainly a night patrol officer, and would work at special events as well. Gradually, as the town grew, so did the police force, with a number of officers working in full or part-time roles later in Grady Simpson’s tenure. These included Kelly Everett and Billy Duncan, both of whom later served as Norcross Police Chief, and Officers Bud Welch, Perry Smith, Waymon Scott, Charles Starnes, and Officers Honea and Barnett. The force had grown to five officers by the time Grady retired in 1969, when there were 2500 citizens. The photo below shows Grady Simpson on the left with Officer Kelly Everett.
When Grady Simpson was hired Norcross had no permanent city hall, and the Norcross jail was a relatively inhospitable two-cell structure located on Skin Alley, with minimal heating and no restroom facilities. The first Norcross city hall was built on South Peachtree Street, in the center of town, opening in 1957, and included an indoor, heated jail for the city’s occasional prisoner. By the time Grady Simpson retired the police force had more modern police equipment, including radio dispatch services. The photo below shows Grady Simpson in the city hall with G. H. Thurmond, who also worked for the city in that era.
Grady Simpson had a special approach to dealing with at-risk juveniles in the community. When he saw that a young man in the community was headed down the wrong road in life, he would pick him up in his patrol car and have a talk with him. Grady Simpson was of the opinion that when a young boy got into trouble, it was better to talk to him and give him a second chance, than to file charges against him, or turn him over to his parents. He thought they would turn out to be better citizens by using this approach.
Another good-will activity that Grady used to establish bonds in the community started at an early age – he sent Christmas cards to Norcross boys, six years and younger. He said we all need friends - both as youngsters and later on – and the Christmas cards were part of his approach to making that happen.
Grady claimed to have only a fourth grade education, and certainly was not well-trained in law or medicine when he took over the city police job. He addressed this by drawing upon a number of mentors to help him learn in those areas, including his relative “Colonel” Frank Simpson, the Norcross- born county solicitor at the time Grady was hired, and Dr. Jack Cain, a long-practicing physician who grew up in and practiced in Norcross. Grady Simpson put this training to use in various situations, but one thing he did not have to do was to assist in the birth of a child – he said when he retired that he had had to transport expectant mothers to doctors or hospitals several times, and thought more than once that they might not make it in time, but somehow they always did.
It was also city policy in those days that he and other city employees had to reapply for their jobs at the beginning of each year, so he wrote a letter to the city council each year to do so. (By the end of his term, the council included some of the boys he had nurtured in earlier years.)
Jane Holbrook also remembers that when word came out that Grady Simpson would retire at the end of 1969 the city’s residents wanted to have a special celebration to honor the Chief. They had an under- cover campaign to raise funds for a gift, and worked its presentation into the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting celebration in Thrasher Park in early December. All of the children were expecting Santa Claus to arrive as usual riding on a city fire truck, but this year was different – he came in riding on a fishing boat on a trailer – and the fishing rig was then presented as the town’s gift to Chief Simpson. Longtime City Clerk Betty Mauldin recalled later “You never saw such a party … the town was overrun.”
Chief Simpson passed away in 1976 and his remains were buried in the Mt. Carmel Methodist Church cemetery.
Grady Simpson said at his retirement that he had intended to “police in a way that those fellows wouldn’t regret hiring me,” and it seems that everyone who knew him would agree that he had succeeded. As part of a ceremony at the American Legion Post in Duluth honoring him at the end of his career several local citizens who had known him for many years contributed their remembrances. One from Harold H. Cofer, who lived in Norcross and was a county deputy sheriff in the area for many years, sums up their sentiments:
I could tell many many incidents over the years of the good deeds that have been done by Grady Simpson for the people in this area. Grady and I worked together for twelve years as fellow law enforcement officers and there have been so many times he has gone far beyond the call of duty to help and protect his fellow man. I think now, as I did during the years we worked together he is Tops – not only in his profession – but also as a man that has and is living by the Golden Rule.
Many thanks to Jane Holbrook for her help in writing this article, and also to David Little for his comments.