Military Embedded Systems

Remembering Marty Simon


October 18, 2021

John McHale

Editorial Director

Military Embedded Systems

At 40 years old this fall, the VMEbus standard’s longevity can be traced to its inventors, VME product designers, VITA Standards Organization members, military systems users, and also to the creativity and marketing acumen of a rock and roll aficionado named Marty Simon. Marty – founder of The Simon Group, member of the VITA Hall of Fame, early proponent of VME, my friend, and the most positive person I’ve ever come across – passed away in September at the age of 77 from complications from ALS.

After starting his career at the Linholdt and Jones advertising agency, he launched his own firm, The Simon Group, in 1986. One of his first clients was Plessey Microsystems (Plessey later became Radstone, later bought by GE, and now called Abaco Systems), which made products based on the relatively new VMEbus standard. Perfect timing.

“Together at Plessey, later Radstone, we defined and created the rugged VMEbus market with some PR, advertising, and a groundbreaking article later in the late 1980s – cowritten by Vera Cole [later Marty’s kind, generous, and brilliant wife] that defined a market need – rugged open systems architectures for defense and aerospace, when it had not existed before,” says Doug Patterson, president of Patterson Consulting, and then a young marketing manager at Plessey. “Marty was like a brother and Vera like a sister to me. There are really no other words to describe the effect they had on me.”

Read about Marty Simon’s VITA Hall of Fame induction here.

Rock songs and single-board computers don’t often mesh, but they did in Marty Simon. Never one to wear a tie and always with his curly salt-and-pepper locks covering his shirt collar, he greeted all with a big smile and a positive musician’s vibe that left you with a smile just as big as his own. His colleagues at The Simon Group weren’t employees, they were friends and “Groupies” because to Marty, life was a big, wonderful rock concert that he wanted all to enjoy. His ebullience was perfect for the nascent and not-so-sexy embedded computing market.

“If we think of the computer industry like the movie industry, Marty Simon was one of the great directors,” says his friend and former colleague from Plessey, Pete Yeatman, the former publisher of COTS Journal magazine. “Marty captured the personalities of all the actors he had to work with and brought out their best. His impact on the military COTS industry is only really known by the people and companies he worked with. Without Marty’s talent of knowing how to influence the way industry, government, and people perceived the COTS movement, it would not be where it is today. He encouraged me and provided me with views that I may never have realized, bringing out the best in me.”

Each year, Marty played director at his Simon Group party for colleagues, clients, partners, media, friends, and their families, encouraging everyone to get up and sing a song with him and his rock band.

“Marty was truly one of a kind, a gem of a person,” says Valerie Andrew, of Elma Electronic, friend of Marty, and regular guest vocalist at his parties. “He had a way of making anyone he spoke with feel special, the center of the room. He was a larger-than-life, generous soul, with a quick wit and lyrical turn of phrase. Anyone fortunate enough to be in his orbit was lucky. I was one of those very lucky people and am a better person for it.”

Saying Marty was a positive thinker is such an understatement. On crutches – and at times using a wheelchair – his entire adult life due to a bout with polio at the age of three, Marty never let that stop him. He drove fast cars, wrote touching music, played skillful guitar, played with his three daughters and five grandkids, and passionately tried to find out what made everyone he met happy.

The latter unnerved me a little during my first press meeting with him in the 1990s. I thought we were there to talk tech, but he wanted to know what made me happy, how my love life was, what my hobbies were. The laser focus made me uncomfortably vulnerable. That hesitation didn’t last long, though, and I found myself visiting Marty every year for a blast of positivity and perspective.

I regret not making a visit in recent years after Marty retired. No excuses: My mistake and my loss. I was grateful his family and his successors at The Simon Group, Dave Lesser and Beth Smith, invited me to attend his virtual memorial service, which took place on my birthday. While I cried along with Beth during her eulogy, I left smiling and grateful for Marty’s friendship.

Marty was rare. Marty is missed.

For more on Marty, read his obituary here. In lieu of flowers, in Marty’s memory please support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bucks County: (215-343-8260) or HMS School: (215-222-2566).