‘She was a ray of light’: Alex Simpson ’22 remembered for her grace and generosity
Simpson, who graduated from the College in June and planned on attending law school, died at age 22 in August.
Whether it was through her everyday fashion statements or her remarkable acts of selflessness, Alex Simpson ’22 left an impression on all she touched. Simpson graduated cum laude with a double major in French and Psychology and a minor in Government. Upon her admission to law school, Simpson had planned to work toward prioritizing the needs of pediatric patients and the medical professionals who treat them.
Simpson’s friends and loved ones noted her unique perseverance and kindness. Her mother, Melanie Simpson, said that when she walked into a room, especially as a small child, she was “full of positive energy and light.”
“Alex did not know a stranger; she made everyone feel comfortable,” Melanie Simpson said.
Hidden from nearly everyone around her, Simpson privately fought a 10-month battle against CIC-DUX4, a rare sarcoma, before she died on August 27. Simpson overcame her original cancer diagnosis at age 13 and again at age 14. Following seven years in remission, another tumor appeared last fall. Simpson underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments at Boston Children’s Hospital all while remaining enrolled at the College, where she graduated alongside her class in June.
In order for Simpson to graduate on time, Melanie Simpson drove from Hanover to Boston at 4 a.m. for 8 a.m. treatments so that Alex could be back on campus in time for her afternoon classes.
In Simpson’s honor, her sorority, Alpha Phi, has raised over $10,000 in donations for the University of Kentucky Pediatric Oncology/Hematology department.
While she was a student, Simpson served as APhi’s philanthropy chair and helped organize the Red Dress Gala, an event which raises money for women’s heart health, according to her friend Elizabeth Hobbs ’22. The week leading up to the gala, Melanie Simpson recalled that Alex planned the event over the phone while at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.
“In the last year, [Alex] dedicated so much of her life to APhi to make sure that philanthropic initiatives were taken care of,” Hobbs said. “She planned a lot of sisterhood dinners and events that she felt were very important because she wanted to make everyone feel welcome, included and special”
At Camp Kesem, a camp for children whose parents are battling cancer, Simpson also welcomed campers, according to another camp counselor Arielle Morris ’24. Though her struggles were private, Melanie Simpson said that Alex could relate to children who had dealt with a loss to cancer because at age eight, Alex lost her own father to cancer.
“I could tell how much she cared about making sure that all the kids had a really great experience,” Morris said. “She was very selfless.”
In college, Simpson forged a close relationship with her thesis advisor and French professor Faith Beasley. Beasley called it “serendipity” that the pair met over Zoom when Beasley taught FREN 40.40, “Molière: la comédie humaine.” After taking another class with Beasley — FREN 80, “The Arts and French Gastronomy” — Beasley advised Simpson to become a French major and write a thesis based on a paper Simpson wrote in class on the theatricality of the French culinary arts.
“I don’t go to students and ask them to write a thesis, I just don’t,” Beasley said. “I thought that it was such a good idea and such a good paper that I thought, ‘This is somebody who should be encouraged to write a thesis.’”
Melanie Simpson said that Beasley was one of the few people Alex confided in about having cancer. When Alex was in the intensive care unit in Boston, Beasley visited her to bring her macarons and French cheese she knew Alex would like.
Scarlett Souter ’22, a friend of Simpson, said that when Simpson really liked her food she would hum a little. Scouter recalled that at night, when Simpson would snack on frozen blueberries and milk, she would tease her to stop humming to her blueberries. Simpson and Souter were roommates their senior year and had lived together in Boston over their junior winter.
While in Boston, Souter said that the two trained for a half marathon on their own since no half marathons were scheduled at the time. Souter said that initially Simpson had to stop twice while running three miles, but over a few weeks she said it was “incredible” to watch Simpson’s determination. Even when running today, Souter said she thinks about finishing the half marathon and how proud Simpson had been of herself. Though there was no charity half marathon scheduled, Souter said that Simpson still donated to charity as if she were running an organized race.
Simpson was known for everyday acts of kindness and selflessness. Souter recalled a time when Simpson had sent a care package to a fellow ’22 after she heard of that person’s parents losing their jobs during the pandemic.
Another time, Lucy Ranieri ’22 said that while she was quarantining due to COVID-19, Simpson organized members of APhi to make a poster and deliver her candy on Halloween. Ranieri said that Simpson also acted as a guide to “Dartmouth life” for underclassmen new to APhi or the cheerleading squad.
“I think she would want to be remembered, in the simplest words, as a big sister to the younger girls in cheer and in our sorority that she was a mentor to, and to all of her friends who she dedicated so much time and loyalty to,” Ranieri said.
Simpson’s relative David Kirkpatrick said that Simpson was like a big sister to her second cousins, guiding them on everything from college applications to research to advice about boys. Similarly, Souter said that she trusted Simpson’s character judgment so much that Simpson had to “approve of any guys” she was interested in. Ranieri also said that she shared boy advice with Simpson.
“I had some of my favorite memories of Dartmouth spending time with Alex in the most mundane situations, but she always knew how to liven up a room,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs added that she and Simpson would study together on the third floor of Berry, go on walks around Occom Pond and get dinner at Molly’s or Murphy’s on the Green. Hobbs also highlighted that Simpson was an “extremely talented singer.”
“She … could have been on Broadway,” Hobbs said. “[She] went to a performing arts high school and was in a variety of theater productions as a child,” Hobbs said.
As a child, Simpson had participated in Kids Sing, a church group, according to her mother. In the children’s theater, Simpson starred as Annie at age 11 and then as Jane Banks in Mary Poppins at age 15. According to Kirkpatrick, Simpson was eager to take on difficult acting challenges. At age 16, along with a friend, Simpson researched and wrote a script for a play. Melanie Simpson said that while Alex was on chemotherapy and radiation and underwent surgeries, she would rush back to the stage as soon as she got clearance from her doctors.
“Sometimes we’d be in the car together, and we’d roll down the windows and just sing as loud as possible while driving around the Green,” Hobbs said. “She loved singing, Broadway and showtunes. You could always start up a conversation about that.”
Beyond Simpson’s love of singing, she is remembered for her unique sense of fashion. In an online video of her funeral service, Rev. Chad Snellgrove recalled that as a young child, Simpson wore a bow in her hair to church. As Simpson grew up, she continued to make distinct fashion statements. For Simpson’s birthday, Hobbs had accompanied her to a fashion show where Simpson was the “star” of the party — even among fashion influencers.
“Our friends liked to call Alex ‘Elle Woods’ because she was going to law school and she was very fashionable,” Ranieri said. “To one of our sorority formals, she wore this hot pink velvet dress and she was the embodiment of Elle Woods in that dress.”
According to Lars Wagner, a pediatric oncologist for Simpson, the care team in Boston was amazed at Simpson’s ability to live life on her own terms during her treatment. During the tumultuous period, Simpson went to music festivals and even traveled to the Caribbean with a chest tube.
The night before graduation, Melanie Simpson shared that her daughter had suffered a stroke, but she did not allow the hospital to admit her in order to walk across the graduation stage with her class. Upon hearing this news, Beasley worked with administrators during the night so that Alex could sit in the first row and walk a shorter distance. Even then, she refused and instead walked up to the stage from her designated section.
“By keeping the cancer victim at bay in all her plans and relationships, the person who will remain forever engraved in our hearts is the real Alex,” Beasley wrote in a eulogy read at Simpson’s funeral.
Simpson traveled to France and Kenya following her graduation.
“I was sitting in the backseat of the helicopter when we were flying through all the different African jungles and it was an ‘a-ha’ moment for me to watch her in that front seat,” Melanie Simpson said. “She was listening to music and moving her arm with the wind out of the open helicopter door. It was an ‘a-ha’ moment for me to know that she had such joy in her heart.”