Dr. John Childs Simpson was born in Lynchburg on May 11, 1889. His father brought the family to Danville when he was ten to take a position as pastor of Main Street Methodist Church. John attended public school in Danville for a few years before the family moved again when he was fourteen, this time to Richmond. After graduating from John Marshal High School, he attended Randolph Macon College in Ashland, where he graduated in 1911. He then took a teaching position at McCallie Boys School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1916, he returned to Richmond and to his Alma Mater, where the took a teaching position.
During WWI, Mr. Simpson entered the Army. He spent most of the war at the First Officers Training Camp at Fort Myer, Virginia, where he graduated in November of 1917. The following month he married Anne Easter Marye of Ashland, Virginia. In June of 1918, Mr. Simpson was assigned to the 113th Field Artillery as first lieutenant and was sent overseas. He remained there until June of the following year when he was discharged with the rank of captain.
Upon returning home, Mr. Simpson accepted the post of assistant principle at the Randolph Macon Military Academy at Bedford. He was there until 1925 when he was appointed president of the Randolph Macon Institute in Danville. He moved to Danville where and assumed his new post, only months before the school closed. The people of Danville soon rallied behind the beloved girls’ institution, however, and the school was reopened under the name of Stratford College. He served as first principle of that institution, and retained that post for over thirty-five years, until his death in 1962.
Mr. Simpson was a well-known and much respected scholar, and his name was known throughout the country for his involvement in the junior college movement. He was a noteworthy teacher and was admired for his “gentle and gentlemanly way of conducting the business of the college and the business of the classrooms.” He taught English, French, math, history and Bible studies during his years as teacher. His greatest disappointment upon finding himself president of Randolph Macon and then Stratford successively, was that it took him from the classroom. Even though it was Simpson’s plan, from the beginning that, Stratford should be a four-year school, the institution didn’t achieve that honor until after his death. Still, it was he who was responsible for attaining the necessary accreditation to make that goal possible.
Mr. Simpson was known as Captain John to his students and peers, a name given him in honor and respect. In the summer of 1962, his health began to decline. On October 6, 1962 he suffered of a heart attack in his Old West End home at 127 South Main Street. He was taken to the hospital and died the following morning at the age of 73.
For a brief time after Mr. Simpson’s death, Stratford College experienced unprecedented growth. The boom was short-lived however, and Stratford closed its doors for good in July of 1974.