In the 24 or so hours that have passed since I learned of the passing of my friend Simon, a lot of grief, anger, stories, and thoughts have bounced around my head. It’s become so awash that I decided I needed to write something down, if for no other reason than to help process, and now it has become a sort of memorial for him. My version of one, anyway, as this has become deeply personal and I have debated over whether I’d share it publicly. I have shared it with some other folks close to Simon and it seems to have been helpful for them, so I’ve decided to post it. On top of that, I want the world to know what an incredible guy Simon was.
I thought writing this would be hard, and it is - the thoughts are there, in my head for hours as I’ve had a long drive to make and thus too much time inside my own head, but I don’t know if I can vocalize them well. But in a way, it’s also not hard, because there is just so much you can say about Simon. But I write and then I edit, and write more, edit more, and I don’t know when it’s done. I don’t want it to be done.
One of those thoughts I’d had was, how would I title a memorial to Simon? “Have I told you about my watch?” was one of the first things that came to mind. So it brought both a smile and a welling of tears upon opening the memorial that Björn Grüning wrote for Galaxy only to discover that he had titled his the same. Sure, it’s fresh in both our respective memories, but it’s also a perfect introduction of the person Simon was.
Simon had a layover in Dubai on his way to the 2022 European Galaxy Days. This meant that he had the time to look at some of the airport shops, and, unsurprisingly, a number of watches struck his eye. Simon loved watches, especially fancy Seiko watches, and he came away with one of them. His delightful nerdish excitement to tell everyone and anyone about his new watch became his running joke for the trip. “Have I told you about my watch?” he’d asked me (and many others) with more than a little bit of amusement many times by the end of the week and a half we spent together.
Simon was one of those once in a lifetime individuals who could (and did) befriend anyone. He had a disarming charm that just flowed naturally, but he was genuinely interested in everyone and everything around him. He was the one who brought everyone together, to collaborate, or to play games, or just to sit and talk and have a great time. That nerdish excitement over his watch was how he was about everything, and it was infectious. I am not a watch person but I could listen to Simon talk about his watch, or anything else, all day. His excitement over his favorite band, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (from his hometown of Melbourne, no less!) led me to check them out, and before long they were my favorite band too. He told stories about his past adventures, both ours together and his with others, with the same exuberance. He had a wonderful memory for such things, and I have the opposite, which meant that reliving those times through his stories brought back many fantastic memories.
The circumstances of my life have dwindled my friends list significantly over my middle aged years. It has become rare for me to see my few remaining local friends. In some ways, a friendship with Simon was easier - there was no guilt over the inability to see each other because we were on opposite sides of the world. So we had our friendship online, mainly in a group chat with Helena, punctuated by the brief times once or so per year that we could be together in the real world.
Our chats were a great comfort to me. With Simon in Australia and Helena in Europe, we were almost evenly distributed across time zones. I’d wake up to a log full of messages between the two of them to read, maybe catching Simon briefly before he was off to bed. Helena and I would chat all day, and then toward the end of my day, Simon might reappear to start his day and catch up on the chat that he had missed. It was asynchronous and wonky but it worked well enough for the three of us, as we always had the anticipation of our next face-to-face meeting to keep us going. We had plans for a week-long get-together in State College before the 2020 GCC in Toronto, only to have those plans crushed by COVID. So too were the plans for hanging out in Belgium and the Netherlands after the 2021 GCC in Ghent (in Freiburg we had discussed the possibility of a consolation prize: a Galaxy Admin Training in Ghent). When we finally did get to reunite in Minneapolis and Freiburg in 2022, Simon’s hugs were long and crushing, and signified the truth of how difficult those years apart had been, and how good it was to finally see eachother again.
Simon and I were together on a fateful night in November 2016, in Salt Lake City, after teaching a day of the very first Galaxy Admin Training. We went to a bar to watch the election results pour in, and stared with increasing dismay as what seemed like a probably ok thing earlier in the day turned into a nightmare. I left early in a funk; the next morning I met Simon at the tram stop and he cheered me up. He was always able to do that, he was a good listener and commiserate, but he could steer things to a positive place in a respectful but effortless manner. In online chats, he was always looking ahead, so excited for the next thing and the next time we’d be together.
He cared deeply about his friends and would talk them up to anyone. I know more about his friend Maddi than I do about some of my own friends, and I’ve never even met her. But Simon was so proud of her and her accomplishments that he couldn’t help but talk about her the way a father talks excitedly about his child. He was unquestionably genuine in his feelings.
As we walked around Freiburg this past October, Simon told me how he’d love to spend a year working abroad as his kids were reaching the age of independence and self-sufficiency. I think he was seriously considering it. He had gotten to a relatively good place in life, in a happy relationship with a wonderful woman, two incredible kids that he loved dearly and spoke about proudly and endlessly, and a job that he enjoyed and that afforded him opportunities to travel around the world and make connections that truly seemed to mean everything to him.
I used to imagine how my own life might go as I reached the same milestones. I imagined taking trips every year or so to visit my two improbable friends, a Texan in Europe and an Australian. Simon was ten years older than me, Helena is ten years younger, and yet somehow we all clicked, despite varying personal interests and lifestyles. I imagined a time 20 years from now, after Simon had retired and I no longer had the opportunity to meet up with him at conferences - we’d see him at home in Australia, or plan trips together somewhere else.
When I visited Melbourne in 2017 for the Galaxy Australasia Meeting, I had one extra day, and Simon drove us down the breathtaking Great Ocean Road. I was reluctant to get in the water with Australia’s notoriously deadly ocean creatures, but he reassured me it’d be fine, and I had a wonderful time. He was already planning us an extended trip down the coast after the 2023 GCC, which in a great cruel irony, will finally come to Australia.
The 2019 Galaxy Admin Training was held at Penn State in January/February. Simon and Helena came and experienced one of the coldest weeks in recorded State College history, reaching temps of -20°F. I picked Simon up at the airport and - in a story he loved to retell - he pulled a light puffer jacket out of a small stuff sack to show he’d prepared for this winter trip. I just looked at him and shook my head. He and Helena both ended up borrowing my old coats for the duration as neither of them had a need for such heavy coats at home. I drove my friends up to one of the scenic overlooks over State College and we hurriedly took some photos before retreating back to the warmth of the car. Helena got “proper” Tex-Mex for the first time since leaving the US. Both got to try the abomination known as a Pittsburgh-style sandwich.
In addition to learning all of the unpleasantness that comes from being outdoors in horribly cold temperatures, Simon also got to experience some of the fun. I took him up to a nearby state park, where some folks were clearing the snow off a frozen pond to play hockey, and Simon had a blast sliding around on ice for the first time in his life.
@SimonGladman1 discovered sding on a frozen pond pic.twitter.com/604YD1vCTi— Nate Coraor (@firstname.lastname@example.org) (@natefoo) February 2, 2019
Later in the week we went ice skating (indoors thankfully!), and tried to go snow tubing but the temperature had swung too warm, so we got coffee at Rothrock instead. Simon loved coffee more than anyone I know, and I could always count on him to have already found a good coffee shop near every conference venue before I even arrived. More recently, we’d gotten into the practice of trading beans every time we got together. I had worried about how I’d keep us all entertained that week, but my worries ended up being silly in hindsight; Simon was happy just being together, no matter what we did, and I realized that I was too.
The circumstances of my life have meant that spending any significant extra time around conferences had been impossible, until this October, when I was finally able to stay almost a week extra after the European Galaxy Days, and I will be forever grateful that I did. On Sunday after the conference, Simon and I rode the train up to Basel. We had no plans and no expectations due to Germany’s (and Switzerland’s) famed lack of Sunday openness, but I ended up having one of the best days I can remember, just wandering the old city of Basel together. We walked around inside the historic Münster and ultimately decided to take the climb up its 62.7m high Martinsturm spire. Simon and I squeezed our portly frames through the tiny spaces made for the tiny people of the Middle Ages; no small feat for either of us, but much trickier for him at his towering height. We marveled at the sights over the city and he gave me his assessment of a fire he saw off in the distance - Simon was a volunteer firefighter and loved to talk about that part of his life as much as I, completely foreign to the subject, loved to hear about it.
He was a bit appalled to learn that our vantage point was in fact only the first stop - around a narrow ledge with a low wall, another door took us much further up the tower, to even more marvelous (if not a bit terrifying) views. After retreating, with feet firmly back on cobblestone, we lucked into an idyllic lunch of Rösti with a beer outside on the Münsterplatz at one of the only restaurants open on Sunday. I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life.
Simon’s partner Tamara reached out to me secretly in advance of his 50th birthday, which was sadly occurring amidst COVID isolation and lockdowns in Melbourne. She was compiling a video of all of his friends wishing him a happy birthday, and asked if I could send the call out to all his friends in the Galaxy community. I racked my brain to think who all those people might be and felt guilty over who I might be leaving off the list because I didn’t know if they knew him that well, but it’s clear now I could have just sent it to everyone. As his good friend and colleague Andrew Lonie so perfectly put it:
Simon was a people person first and foremost and made friends not just easily, but by default - if he met you, he liked you and you liked him back - that’s just the way it was.
All the people whose lives Simon enriched are at a deep loss, and most of all his family, his children and partner who he loved dearly. I miss you, Simon.