160. Dr. Simeone (1936-2022)

When I moved to Philadelphia, if I had a nickel for everyone who asked me if I was related to the great Dr. Frederick Simeone, who passed away last week, I could retire with a villa in Amalfi.

Dr. Simeone, the renowned Chair of Neurosurgery at Pennsylvania Hospital, looms large in the hearts of his former patients and their loved ones, who even after I told them he’s no relation, would still be compelled to tell me of near-miraculous healing under his care.

For Philadelphians lucky enough to not need a brain surgeon, however, the Simeone name is famous for the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum he founded and to which he donated his multimillion dollar collection of seventy-five racing sports cars, some going back as far as 1908.

The grandchild of Italian immigrants, Dr. Simeone grew up in the gritty Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, the son of a doctor who was also a car buff, and who collected and tinkered with cars during his time off. Dr. Simeone followed in his footsteps, and saw himself as someone who expressed his ego by making things better with his hands, whether an antique car or a patient’s brain. Named the “World’s Most Significant Collector” by the Classic Car Trust, he traveled the world in hunt of prized specimens, especially favoring those with history, even if that meant they were dinged up a bit. As he stated in a 2019 interview on Radio Times, “Competition makes everything better,” and he saw his cars, from their technical advances to their physical beauty to the drivers who steered them, as personifying that. His goal was education and exposure, not accumulation for its own sake.

Simeone is a very prominent name in my father’s hometown of Gaeta, and my father and I were always curious if that’s where Dr. Simeone’s people were from, and therefore if we were likely distantly related.

At the family homestead in Gaeta

So in 2014, when I saw that a lecture on Italian entrepreneurship was being held at the Simeone Museum, as part of the annual October Ciao, Philadelphia series put on by the local Italian consulate, I knew I had to grab my chance.

I finally make it to the Simeone Museum, 2014

Anyone who knows me knows how out of character this is, but after the event, I approached the great man, surrounded by his friends and the distinguished members of the panel, and metaphorically tugged on his sleeve. “Excuse me. I’m Simeone, too. Where are your people from?” Turns out, not from Gaeta but a town close by in Lazio province. He was lovely and charming and invited me to come back any time with my family and really explore the museum, which even I could tell displayed cars of extraordinary power and beauty, at the cutting edge of the technology and design of their times.

Of course, fat chance getting my girls to go to a car museum. But I am so glad I had the chance to meet someone who had achieved international greatness in not one, but two arenas he was passionate about. And I like to think, all evidence to the contrary, that he’s a cousin of mine.

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