By Angela Roberts and Clara Niel
Shirlene Chase can see him now — towering in the doorway of his office in the basement of 251 North, a great big smile lighting across his face.
“How’re you doing, Ms. Chase?” Luckmann Simon would say, greeting her with a hug. He’d be wearing slacks and dress shoes — never sneakers, as far as Chase could remember. They’d joke about bracing themselves for allergy season and, if prompted, he’d give an update on his three boys and wife, his eyes sparkling.
Like most University of Maryland Dining Services employees, Chase, the assistant director for human resources in the department, has been working from home lately. But she already knows that coming back to a campus now empty of Simon’s quiet kindness is going to be a shock for her and her coworkers.
“I’m just gonna miss him a lot,” she said, her voice thick with grief. “He was talking about retiring in the next couple of years. You know, just taking a break and enjoying life.”
Simon, a long-serving Dining Services employee, died April 9 from complications caused by COVID-19. He was 61 and, Chase said, had just become a grandfather.
For nearly 30 years, Simon worked with the department, spending 13 of those years as a manager. Chase first met him way back at the beginning of his career, when he was working at a little food shop in Stamp Student Union and she was a manager. They clicked right away, she said — he was good to talk to, and she could tell how much he cared for his employees.
David Bullock, an assistant director in charge of retail operations, also remembered Simon for the gentleness he showed during the time they worked together. He was always smiling, Bullock said, and did his job without a whisper of complaint.
He said he can’t imagine anyone saying a harsh word about Simon.
“There’s very few people in life that everyone likes,” Bullock said.
Bullock met Simon in 1993 and worked with him often throughout his career with Dining Services, especially during big events like Family Weekend. They’d keep track of inventory and make sure the food was kept at the right temperature.
“I was very particular on how we watch the food coming in and counting it, making sure it’s at temperature,” Bullock said. “I knew if he was there, it was going to be done right.”
Most recently, Simon was in charge of ordering all the food supplies, paper supplies and equipment for Dining Services shops around the campus, Chase said — a demanding job, requiring him to keep track of each location’s inventory.
Sometimes, Chase said, she’d step up to help Simon and his employees finish making the sandwiches and salads that were to be distributed throughout the campus. She liked to take her time, and make sure everything was nice and neat — but Simon would reassure her that his workers had things covered.
“That was his way of letting me know I was slowing down his production,” she said, laughing.
Originally from Haiti, Simon also spoke Spanish and French, and would sometimes help translate for Chase when she needed to pass along information to employees who weren’t native English speakers.
And any time Simon talked to anybody, his face lit right up, said Dining Services spokesperson Bart Hipple.
“He just liked connecting with people,” Hipple said.
Simon also had a great sense of humor, Chase remembered — something some may not have realized, since he always tried to keep up a professional appearance.
One Maryland Day, she recalled, she decided to send some of the employees stationed at the Dairy home early, since business was pretty slow. But then, the afternoon rush hit, and the shop was flooded with people. Simon had stopped by to drop some things off, Chase said, so he tried to step up to help.
“To see him trying to scoop ice cream and breaking the cones and stuff,” Chase said, laughing at the memory. “So, we had to send him to the back of the house, where it was like, ‘Okay, you just keep stocking ice cream.’”
Chase was supposed to see Simon earlier this month, when she stopped by the campus to deliver paychecks, but he called in sick that day. That caught Chase off-guard — Simon never took days off, and had to be forced to stay home if he wasn’t feeling well.
She meant to call him to check in, she said, but things got busy and one day melted into the next and the next — until Simon’s friend called her with the news.
Now, she has a message: If someone comes to mind, reach out. You just don’t know what’s going to happen one day to the next, she said.
And, she said, try to see the best in others.
“You know, most stuff is good about people,” she said. “People are generally good. And he was one of those who definitely proved that.”