Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mary Lou Simpson: Tiny but tough

Longtime Ketchum resident dies in Mexico

Express Staff Writer

Mary Lou Simpson was on the cover of the Sun Valley Guide in 2007.

In 1946, Mary Lou Shaw took a train from Seattle to Shoshone. A vivacious blonde, who loved skiing, she was in foreign territory. But not for long. She married Jack Simpson, the man she'd come to see, raised her three children and lived in the same house in Warm Springs until her death last week, after an accident at her home in Mexico at age 82.

Mary Lou was a student at the University of Washington, when she met Jack while skiing at Stevens Pass, east of Seattle.

"She fell madly in love with him right away," said Sun Valley resident Toni Lash, a friend from Seattle.

Jack's father owned the Sawtooth Club, and soon the three girls had jobs as cocktail waitresses. In the winter, Mary Lou was also a cashier at the warming hut on top of Baldy.

Jack's family moved to Ketchum in 1939. In 1941, along with Gretchen Fraser, he doubled for Sonja Henie in her ski scenes in the movie "Sun Valley Serenade."

Jack and Mary had three children, Michael Simpson, who died in 1999, Patrick Simpson and Kelly Allison, and four grandchildren.

Jack's devotion to skiing and coaching led him to start a Sun Valley junior racing program that developed into the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. Each year at the organization's fundraising dinner, the Jack Simpson Dedicated Coach Award is presented. But Mary Lou and Jack were also part of a young crowd of skiers who descended on the area after the war.

"If you had a job at Sun Valley everything was free," Lash said. "It was tremendous, and Mary Lou and Jack were great."

In 1949 after a car accident, Mary Lou spent five months in traction in the Sun Valley Hospital, on the fourth floor of the lodge. When she could leave, Lash and her husband helped care for her.

"I used to put her in a wheelchair and push her downtown to the Alpine for a drink and then push her back," Lash said. "She never said a foul word. She was so popular. In Seattle she was called Blondie Shaw."

For a few years they moved a lot as Jack was a commercial pilot. But just before taking a job in Saudi Arabia, Jack received a call from his father telling him he was building a restaurant, the Warm Springs Ranch, and wanted them to come back.

"Once they came back, that was it," daughter Kelly Allison said. "She was the hostess and he was the bartender. As kids we ate dinner there every night."

"She was very well respected at the restaurant," Lila Corrock said. "She was very special."

Mary Lou also played tennis and golf, and at age 50 decided to become a marathon runner, running her first marathon at 53.

For years, Mary Lou was a part of a group of ladies that still gathers for lunch every Tuesday.

"She's been a friend of ours forever," Pudge Young said from her home in Alaska. "We first met them in Sun Valley when my husband was teaching skiing 53 years ago. She was adventurous, fearless and fun, always eager to do new things. She also had a great sense of humor, tiny but tough. We love and will miss her."

A celebration of her life will be held in the Wood River Valley next summer. Donations may be sent to the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. An obituary will appear Wednesday, Dec. 10.

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