Tributes to Alan Simmonds

Saturday, 15 May 2021 by Brian Paxton

The South African bridge world was saddened by the passing last weekend of Alan Simmonds, for many decades one of the leading lights of the Western Cape bridge world, renowned as a feisty competitor, as a much loved bridge teacher, with a very wide circle of ex-pupils, and as a commentator on the game. His passion for the game and his ready sense of humour will be sadly missed by all who knew him. Tributes from four of his long time bridge friends, which follow, are testament to all of that and more........



Tribute from Lorraine Weers

Upon meeting Alan, with his trademark scarf, we wondered if he was gay.

We nearly lost our lives, thanks to Alan, around the mid 80’s. Returning from a tournament at the Wild Coast, we left Colesberg after an overnight stay. Around midday we were dozing off and Alan was driving. Suddenly we awoke to the sound of screeching tyres, to find ourselves zigzagging wildly across the road, several times, until he finally gained control of the car and we bounced along in a rocky gully on the left, coming to a stop just before a culvert. Our Alfa was strongly built, and by the grace of God there was no oncoming traffic. “Couldn’t help it, not my fault! A cross wind from nowhere! “
He was not a sedate driver, and once wrote off his car on Hospital bend, but it was entirely someone else’s fault.

We were playing an important tournament one Sunday afternoon and the  TV in the room was on. Suddenly Alan jumped up shouting, “Look! It’s our man, and he’s about to win the marathon!” Play stopped as we all watched Josia Thugwane win the marathon in Atlanta in 1996.

Alan watched sport at every opportunity, sports you have never heard of, and knew the state of play and the technicalities. He would ask Google for results on his phone. He knew the players too.

When working on our bridge system, he would simultaneously keep up a commentary on the cricket.

He would speak to waiters in Swahili and some Polish if he encountered a Pole. He gave my cat a Swahili name.  Going to the vet, who was Indian, he kept up a hilarious account of the vet’s possible diagnoses in his best Indian accent.

One would cringe at a restaurant, when he demanded a specific table and requested changes to the menu, usually wanting a fried egg on top. Done this way.  At a hotel, he would ask for various extras.  Staff were there to serve him. He had great praise for hospital staff after his bouts in hospital.

Mention almost any city/country in the world and he had been there (?) and had an opinion about it.

He loved brief emails, not a message or phone call. This could create difficulties.  

At one time his aim was to make 80, which he did, and recently felt ‘better than in years’.

I  gained many insights into bridge from his simple, irrefutable logic. Winning the Medwin in 1997, the Interclub in 2006 and a place in the Commonwealth Games team of 2014 were thanks to him and I will always be grateful.

Rest in peace dear Alan.

Tribute from Chris Bosenberg

It was sad to hear of the passing of the huge character, Alan Simmonds.

Alan was a ‘loveable rogue’ and I was honoured to call him my friend.

Alan was highly intelligent, a good journalist and a great bridge player.

Some memories of Alan:

We used to play on Monday nights in Cape Town. He, Les Amoils (now an international Canadian bridge star) and I worked a stone’s throw from each other. We would meet for breakfast often and go over the hands by memory (no print outs in those days) on a table napkin and would benefit much from Alan’s insights.

Many years ago, Alan and Martin Grunder invited Claire and me to play in the Cape Province teams played in George, starting on a Friday evening. They would stay at our home in Knysna.  Claire was uncertain whether we should agree as she had heard about Alan being difficult but relented when I said thought she would enjoy his company. We descended on George from Cape Town and Johannesburg on the Friday evening without having dinner. After finishing bridge, we arrived back in Knysna just before 12pm and decided to light a fire and have a braai as we were all hungry. Alan was on form and entertained us with many stories. (many at my expense) At 4am I thought it was time to go to bed if we were going to have any chance of playing decent bridge that day. Claire was so enjoying Alan’s stories, she complained we had our priorities wrong, and we should carry on for a while longer.

Alan had his weaknesses, like us all, and on occasion would appear in front of the committee for some indiscretion. On one occasion meeting Allan after he came out from his hearing, eager to find out his punishment, I asked him what happened. “Nothing”, he said, “Ï have appeared now so many times in front of the committee they thought I was part of the committee.”

Alan we will miss you -rest in peace

Tribute from Harold Bernstein and Selwyn Gersowsky

The SA bridge world was saddened to learn of the passing last week of one of its foremost proponents of  the game.

Alan Simmonds had been suffering ill health for more than 2 years including, and surviving , an encounter with COVID 19 , which ultimately affected his immune system and he finally succumbed to a collapsed lung.

His achievements in bridge spread over several decades and included major successes at the World Championships in Alberqueque, a Team Championship in India and, locally,  the Medwin Trophy, 1997 and Interclub 2000 - all with many different world class partners.

He was also a doyen of the Bowls community and on the day he died he had planned to attend a tournament and luncheon at Keurboom as the Media Liaison Officer.

In addition, he was a Gourmet cook - he was a great lover of varied types of curry.  His biting sense of humour was directed at all and sundry... and even at himself.
On his marriage to Ronelle, he made a speech telling her she would have to give up her practice of Clinical Psychology as she would be treating him "full time!"

Alan gave generously of his time and generations of bridge players were either taught by him or read his daily bridge column in the local newspaper,

His abilities, combined with his quick wit, will be missed by all..

Tribute from Martin Grundler

What is there to say about a man who was, to my mind at any rate, larger than life? While I searched online for ‘nice’ words to describe Alan (yes, English is not my mother tongue), I came across this quote from Susan Sontag of the New Yorker: “He wasn't bashful about showing himself to be feverishly erudite, … terminally droll, and a wizard phrasemaker.” I could not have said it any better. Alan loved the limelight, not as the star though (he did not handle ‘stardom’ well), but as observer, judge, and commentator - a true journalist. He was never shy to give his opinion.

Alan truly loved the game of bridge and he was undoubtedly a much loved bridge teacher. He was a great orator, with a brilliant command of the English language. He was a fountain of knowledge on so many subjects. I won’t dwell on his many bridge achievements, these speak for themselves, or his service to bridge as reporter and incomparable teacher, shaping hundreds of young bridge minds. I would rather try to offer some insights into the man I knew.

I met Alan more than 35 years ago when I attended his bridge lessons, travelling 30km each way every week. Not only were these lessons fundamentally instructive, they were hugely entertaining. I always left them with a feeling of well-being, and each time with a greater love for our game.

After a while I plucked up the courage and asked Alan if he would do me the honour of partnering me for a few bridge sessions. He agreed. And boy, was I sorry I had asked! Initially anyway. I was extremely keen and green, and fortunately also thick-skinned. I am sure many local bridge players will recall the lambastings I suffered at Alan’s hand in the infancy of my bridge career, his booming voice audible in every corner of the playing hall. Once, while defending, he took an Ace from his hand, kissed the card, and tossed it across the room. I had mis-defended and he could see - as I should have seen – the setting trick disappearing. But Alan was also quick to give praise at the table, at times with a boisterous “Bravo!” or loudly clapping his hands in applause (and me of course squirming self-consciously).

At any rate, I soaked up the good with the bad and filtered out the useful stuff, basic rules I will never forget. “Lead partner’s suit”; “Follow the defence”; “Don’t bid the same hand twice”, “Don’t punish your partner”, “Don’t blow hot and cold”, “Trust your partner”, and many more became ingrained in my bridge psyche.  But, of course, there is an exception to every rule, …… “NO BUTS FOR BEGINNERS” he would say in the early days. This was probably the most important lesson I had learnt from Alan; First you learn the ropes, and only then do you get to do the tricks.

As time went on, and I learnt my lessons well, our partnership became quite competitive. We became close friends, and I got to know him better. Some have described him as anomalous, arrogant, derisive, volatile, confrontational, belligerent, opinionated. Others have described him as debonair, audacious, charismatic, eloquent, witty, sharp, brilliant, quick on his feet. Alan was all of this. But he was also my friend, and I knew another side of him.

In his private life Alan was caring and giving and loyal, passionate about his beliefs, and reasonable and logical in debating just about any topic. When I fell on hard times, Alan was the one who selflessly stood by me, helping in any way he could. During the years when I lived away from Cape Town, he used to drop in and visit my widowed mom, and he assisted my daughter with the editing of her academic submissions.

Don’t be mistaken. Alan was a handful. He loved to quip that he had appeared before the bridge disciplinary committee so often that everyone thought he chaired it. There were times when he would refuse to talk with me for weeks on end, no doubt due to some misunderstanding. But our friendship always pulled through.

Because we were like family.

And so, I sadly say goodbye to my dearest friend, and my irreplaceable bridge mentor.

Rest in peace Al.

An Ode to Alan (credit to Paul Anka – “My Way”)
And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I travelled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Regrets, I've had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way

I've loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside
I find it all so amusing to think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me,
I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has not
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

Yes, it was my way