Seymour Simches

Seymour Oliver Simches spent nearly four decades sharing his passion for French literature with Tufts undergraduates.
© J.D. Sloan

A tribute to Seymour Simches, beloved teacher and mentor

Seymour O. Simches, one of Tufts' most popular teachers for nearly four decades and founding director of the Tufts European Center, died on January 18 in Medford, Mass. He was 83.

Simches, the John Wade Professor of Romance Languages emeritus, shared his passion for French literature with generations of Tufts undergraduates.

"A printed eulogy about Seymour Simches isn't really enough," said Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor and a friend and colleague for more than 30 years. "Seymour's legacy will be found in the thousand of students whose lives he changed, generations of Tufts students who found in him a surrogate parent, a warm and loving mentor with a heart."

Caren Black Deardorf, J86, echoed similar feelings: "Prof. Simches really made his mark on thousands of students, on Tufts, on Talloires and on anyone who met him. It feels like that generation is passing, and it's even more important to keep it alive in our support of the European Center."

In an interview in 1998, Simches defined a good teacher as someone who listened, who was open to exchange. "You have to plant the seed and water the plant so that it can grow," he said. "[You have to] find out what is in the student and encourage that seed to grow."

Joel Rosenberg, associate professor of Judaic studies and of international letters and visual studies, met Simches in 1980. He recalled the senior faculty member's kindness and how he inspired his own growing career as a Tufts professor: "It was from Seymour that I derived what has probably been my most successful teaching innovation—allocating time for students to lead discussion," he said. "It opened up a whole new dimension of teaching for me because it taught me to pay attention to how the subject is resonating with students and how to build on their responses to the material. I was impressed by his gentle wisdom in dealing with students, his way of making the student feel valued and encouraged."

Simches brought an indefatigable enthusiasm to teaching and learning, serving as chair of the Department of Romance Languages, director of the innovative College Within and as one of the founders of the Experimental College. In working closely with former Tufts President Jean Mayer, he was tapped in 1978 to transform a priory in Talloires, France, the gift of Charlotte and Donald MacJannet, A16, into the Tufts European Center.

As founding director, Simches "quickly understood what Jean Mayer and the MacJannets wanted to accomplish in Talloires, and with wit, style and common sense, set forth to launch this American enterprise deep in the heart of France," said Mary Harris, F70, former director of the Tufts European Center. "He was an 'ambassador' of the United States to France—and importantly, vice versa. No one at Tufts could have done it better. We are all in his debt, 25 years later, as the Tufts European Center flourishes."

"Seymour was a remarkable man and a true intellectual," said Carol Deveaux, J63, his former staff assistant. "His delight for learning was contagious, and he was an inspiration to his students, his colleagues and everyone whose lives he touched. His passing is a great loss to those who knew him."

On the national level, Simches was active during the 1960s as an advocate for teaching languages to young children. He was vice chair of the Northeast Conference of Foreign Language Teachers, a consultant on foreign languages for the Department of Education and director of the foreign language institutes for the National Defense Education Act and director of the Institute International Linguistique Boulogne-sur mer.

The French government honored him with four awards—three for academic contributions, and the first, the Medaille de L'Aeronatique, in 1945, for service during World War II. Simches, stationed in Montgomery, Ala., was selected to teach a course on meteorology to French pilots.

He was born in 1919, the last of six children, to Jewish Lithuanian immigrants in Dorchester, Mass., where his father was a tailor. He graduated magna cum laude from Boston University and went on to Harvard, where he earned his master's and doctoral degrees. He arrived at Tufts in 1954 as an assistant professor of Romance languages, rising to full professor and in 1962, to the John Wade Professor of Modern Languages.

Simches retired in 1990, but continued to share his love of teaching. He coached alumni in readings of Moliere's Imaginary Invalid at the 1995 Alumni College in Talloires, and students gathered in his Medford home for seminars offered through the Experimental College.

A memorial service for Simches will be held on the Medford/Somerville campus on April 10, when Emese Soos, senior lecturer in French at Tufts, will deliver the Langsam-Barsam-Simches Lecture. Please contact the Department of Romance Languages at (617) 627-73289 for more information.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the Seymour Simches Scholarship Fund, c/o Tufts University, European Center, 108 Packard Ave., Medford, MA 02155 or to Jewish Family and Children Services, 31 New Chardon St., Boston, MA 02144.

Gabriella Goldstein is director of the Tufts European Center in Talloires, France.