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Former Faculty & Coach: Former city councilman Al Simon dies at 91

Kris Wartelle, The Advertiser, Dec. 8, 2018

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Lafayette City-Parish councilwoman Nanette Cook, left, stands with her father, Al Simon, right. Simon, a former Lafayette City Councilman died Thursday at the age of 91. (Photo: Courtesy of Nanette Cook)

Al Simon, former Lafayette City councilman, local high school coach, and University of Louisiana at Lafayette professor of kinesiology died Thursday. He was 91. 

The family said a celebration of Simon’s life will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. on Dec.  27 at the Petroleum Club in Lafayette. The public is invited to attend.

Simon had been living and working in Jackson, Mississippi, since the late 1990s but made his name and career in Lafayette for more than four decades as a politician and educator.  His daughter, Nanette Cook, followed in her father’s footsteps and ran for public office, winning a seat on the Lafayette City-Parish Council in District 7. 

Cook said her father was not only a dad but also a mentor to her.

"He was so supportive," Cook said. "He held the Bible to swear me in when I took office and would often call to talk about what we were doing. I would call him and he would give advice." 

Former Lafayette City councilman Al Simon, center, stands with his two daughters, Michelle Dunaway (left) and Lafayette City-Parish Councilwoman Nanette Cook (right).
Former Lafayette City councilman Al Simon, center, stands with his two daughters, Michelle Dunaway (left) and Lafayette City-Parish Councilwoman Nanette Cook (right).  (Photo: Courtesy of Nanette Cook)

Simon’s career spans most of his lifetime. He began his political career when he was elected to the Lafayette City Council in the 1970s. He served four terms in office from 1976 until 1992.  

Former Lafayette Mayor Dud Lastrapes worked with Simon in Lafayette government for more than a decade and remembered him as someone who could get things done. 

"I respected that he did what he thought was right," Lastrapes said. "He was well-known in the community and well-respected. I liked being able to approach him and talk freely about the issues and policies with mutual respect."

Al Simon, former Lafayette City councilman, local high school coach, and University of Louisiana at Lafayette professor of kinesiology died Thursday. He was 91.

Al Simon, former Lafayette City councilman, local high school coach, and University of Louisiana at Lafayette professor of kinesiology died Thursday. He was 91.  (Photo: Courtesy of Nanette Cook)

Simon was also a longtime educator and coach. He began his career coaching at De La Salle High School in New Orleans.

It was there that the legendary story of his near-death experience was born. While coaching track, one of his students threw a javelin that accidentally hit Simon in the neck, piercing him through and through. 

"It was a wonder he didn’t die then," Cook recalled. "I guess it just wasn’t his time."

After that, Simon took a job as the basketball coach at Lafayette High School. He then accepted a position at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now UL) as a kinesiology professor, where he taught for 30 years. Simon finally retired from teaching at the age of 90. His last job was teaching kinesiology at Jackson State University.

Cook said her father will be remembered for his love of life and positive outlook.

"He was just fun to be around," Cook recalled. "He was always upbeat and positive and was a joy to be around."

Clare Cook is one of Simon’s granddaughters. The local dancer and teacher said she will remember how Simon made her smile.

"Anyone that met him couldn’t help but remember his joyful personality," she said. "He made you feel special. I will always carry with me his big smile and his zest for life."

Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas.

Click here for a photo of Dr. Al Simon and three of his former USL Long Gym office mates taken in 2015. 

Click here for the photo gallery of the reception for the Hatfield/Paschal Basketball Reunion in 2015.
Al served as a volunteer coach during the 1975 season to help bring basketball back.

Click here for Dr. Simon in 1973 with the Physical Education Majors Club.

Click here for the 1975 Men’s Basketball photo gallery which includes a photo of the coaching staff.

Click here for the photo gallery menu of the entire Hatfield/Paschal Basketball Reunion of 2015.

Friends since I had been assigned to student teach under him at Lafayette High School in 1962 (that assignment was later changed to first year school, Northside High School), we shared an office in Long Gym for several years when I joined the USL faculty in 1967. In 1970, when he became Health & Physical Education Department Head, I accepted the position of Coordinator of the Men’s Division and served as a member of his administrative team. He continued to be deeply involved in the community and as a member of the Lafayette City Council, he relinquished his administrative position at USL in 1975 and I filled that vacancy.
We played a lot of tennis while both on the faculty and had a noon group which ranged from small to almost out of courts – all at Long Gym. The group grew so large that we had to be certain not to schedule tennis classes during the noon hour, so faculty and staff could have the courts. Herbert Heymann was one of his close friends and sometimes when Herbert arranged for a doubles match, Al and I would go over and play on his court (current Alumni Center).
We continued to communicate while he was at Jackson State and had a wonderful visit when he attended the 2015 reunion.
RIP, Al.
Peace, Ed Dugas
athleticnetwork@louisiana.edu