Fred Simon has a booming voice, is an impeccable dresser, and never meets a stranger, but did you know he is an excellent storyteller? I listened to Fred’s stories and I learned about a man who loved his wife deeply, who rose above the racism of the times and made his own way in the world. Fred has been singing “Old Man River” for a long time, and he reminds me of a river. He just keeps rolling along with his big, kind heart and a twinkle in his eye, trusting in God and spending time in prayer.
Here are some things you may not know about Fred:
He had to play a statue in his 4th grade play because if he sang, he drowned out everyone else.
He traveled with an evangelist to sing and warm up the crowd when he was a teenager.
You did not pick on Fred when his sister was around. She always had his back.
His grandmother sent him and his sister to NY and DC during Beaumont's 1940's race riots, and while playing on a rooftop in NY, he witnessed martial arts exercises for the first time.
Fred is a 10th-degree black belt and is known as grandmaster Simon.
He attended Huston Tillotson on a choir scholarship where he met his wife, Gene. It was love at first sight.
He shook hands with President Lyndon Johnson at a Beaumont restaurant, and Fred was speechless when the president said, "You have a good grip son!"
Fred and Gene joined FUMC in 1970 and were the first African American family to join the all-white congregation in downtown Beaumont. The day they filled out the membership card, Pastor John Wesley Hardt came to their house to welcome them. The congregation of FUMC embraced diversity with Rosa Dieu taking the lead to make sure everything went well for the Simons.
Fred and Gene didn’t take the easy road. They followed the Spirit when it led them to this congregation, and they didn't let racism get in the way of serving Jesus. Fred’s stories reveal a man who took the troubles that life handed out, dealt with them and kept a beautiful, positive outlook. He is an inspiration, and I am grateful for his example. Share a meal and some stories with him sometime and I promise you will leave with a smile on your face and hope in your heart.
By Michelle Holland