Alexandria Chamber of Commerce Business Leader of the Year: Donnie Simpson

Donnie Simpson and Mike Porterfield

Recently I had the honor to introduce the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce Business Leader of the Year Donnie Simpson at the annual Best in Business Awards event. In preparing my remarks I had the opportunity to reflect on the power and importance of role models in my life.  Donnie, his family and their company have been compassionate and generous members of the community for three generations. I heard someone say today that a leader’s greatest asset is their time. When the Simpson’s get involved it goes beyond making a financial contribution.  Having grown up hearing about the good works of the Simpson family, I can’t help but wonder if that hasn’t impacted my sense motivation and sense of obligation to make a difference in my community, in the same way they have.  Lead by example by example – because someone is watching and they might be inspired to follow you!

My full remarks are below if you care to read them.

Introduction of Donnie Simpson | October 12, 2023

Alexandria Chamber of Commerce Best in Business Awards

[Let me start off with a little housekeeping. I know I am standing in the way of some of you getting to the bar so we will keep it moving. Donnie, I just want you to know I am going to play this “straight” tonight. No roasting despite all of your friends over here in the cheap seats that have been lobbying me all week including Jack Taylor, who called me directly.]

Good evening everyone. Let me start by first congratulating all of tonight’s
nominees and winners. You should feel tremendously proud of your
accomplishments and contributions to our city!

It is an immense pleasure to be standing here this evening to introduce this
year’s recipient of the Alexandria Chamber’s Business Leader of the Year – Donnie Simpson. Donnie and the company he leads may not be a household name to many of you but that is kind of how his family would prefer it. Having grown up here in Alexandria there were several companies and family names that were regularly mentioned in my house as the ones that could be counted on to step up where there was a need to fill in the community. It was Lindsay’s, the Fanon’s, and The Simpson’s.

The story of Simpson Development, in many ways is the story of Alexandria
itself. They were founded in 1945 by Donnie’s grandfather, Clarence, and his three brothers and get this, the husbands of their four sisters. They started out as laborers; they became property owners then builders of their own portfolio and for others in and around the community. You may know some of the buildings the Simpson’s have built:

  •  The Canal Center office complex
  •  The former Radisson hotel which is now condominiums
  •  The United Way Headquarters in Old Town North
  • The original redevelopment of Torpedo Factory in the 80s
  • The Montgomery Center which is now slated for redevelopment
  •  The Bradlee Shopping Center
  •  Landmark Mall
  • Tavern Square
  • They did all of the interior construction of the Masonic Temple
  • Renovations to the City Hall and the construction of Market Square and
    surrounding blocks during urban renewal
  • And of course, Emmanuel Church on Russell Road. The very first building
    they built.

The Simpson’s are landlords to many of Alexandria best small businesses. I can tell you that it is impossible to find a tenant that wouldn’t say they are THE best landlord. They kept countless businesses alive during peak stress of the pandemic!

But let’s focus more on Donnie for a second, when I first moved back to
Alexandria to start my own business career my mother told me you need to go meet Donnie Simpson and let him know what you are up. So, a little bit nervous, I did just that. The conversation started off talking about youth sports in the city and of course the football team at Alexandria City High School as we both had played for the Titans. Then quickly the conversation turned to talking about the different organizations and opportunities where I could have some impact in community. You see when Donnie first came home to work in the family business it was his grandfather Clarence, that sat him down on first day and said “these are things you need to roll up your sleeves and get involved in.” That is what the Simpson’s do. It’s in their DNA.

Much of impact Donnie and his family have made in Alexandria has
surrounded kids and schools, (and they have built a few of those too). They were early contributors to the success of the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria. They donated the Simpson Baseball fields, helped construct the Miracle Field at the Lee Rec Center for kids with special needs? And Donnie was instrumental in the effort to get lights approved and built on the Alexandria City High School athletic fields and more recently he helped lead a public-private partnership to get lights installed on the basketball courts at Potomac Yard.

You see – all of these projects are about creating more opportunities, for more kids to part participate, recreate and and build a stronger community. Donnie is a mentor and leader by the actions he takes. And I know that Donnie is very proud that he has maintained the family traditions of community service and involvement that were paved by Clarence, Eugene and his father Donald, Sr. Everyone should know that coming up here to accept this award is NOT in Donnie’s DNA.

But I want Donnie to know that although “Lifetime Achievement Awards” like this are often given to those on their final lap, whose skills might be diminishing, who might not be as fast as they once were, or their influence is wanning a bit – There is more work to be done here in City we all love. And we need YOU to keep leaning in on these big projects. So, with that said lets all welcome to the stage the 2023 Business Leader of the Year – our friend Donnie Simpson!

Mike Porterfield introducing Donnie Simpson at the Chamber event.

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