2019 Person of the Year: Det. Brian Simonsen; ‘a legacy of service to others’

Editor’s Note: The video below was prepared for our 2019 Times Review Media Group People of the Year event in March. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were forced to postpone and ultimately cancel this year’s event. Every Sunday over the past six weeks we shared the video presentations that would have celebrated each of the honorees that evening along with the original People of the Year features published in January. A special thank you to our event sponsor, People’s United Bank, for helping to make these awards possible each year

On a July afternoon at Citi Field, as the New York Mets hosted the San Diego Padres, family and friends celebrated the memory of fallen NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen of Calverton.

They were joined by fellow detectives with whom Det. Simonsen worked alongside. And a special guest joined — to the surprise of the family and friends.

They met Simo, an NYPD K-9 named in memory of Det. Simonsen. 

“We were there to celebrate [Det. Simonsen] for the day and honor him, and they surprised us and brought down Simo,” said Shelter Island Police Sgt. Terrence LeGrady, who was a close friend. “It was heart-wrenching.”

Simo was still training at that time and in early November he was one of 12 K-9 graduates at the Counterterrorism Bureau’s canine program.

“We are proud to introduce K-9 ‘Simo’ in the honor of Detective Brian Simonsen, handled by Police Officer Cea,” the NYPD’s 102nd Precinct tweeted on Nov. 6.

That K-9 Simo will carry the name of Det. Simonsen while protecting the citizens of New York City is just one of many ways the detective’s memory and legacy lives on. Det. Simonsen was 42 when he died from a friendly fire gunshot wound while responding to a report of an armed robbery in Queens in February 2019.

The tragedy hit close to home in Riverhead, where he grew up in South Jamesport and earned the nickname “Smiles” from his high school friends.

In the 10 months since that fateful night, those who may not have known Det. Simonsen learned of a man who dedicated his life to helping others, even before he became a police officer. They learned of a genuine, compassionate man with a personality that could never be forgotten. They learned of a man who overcame personal tragedy early in his life when he lost his sister and father just six months apart.

“He immediately assumed the role of man of the house,” said his cousin, Shawn Petersen. “He became the rock that supported the family.”

For his dedicated commitment to helping others, both as a 19-year veteran of the NYPD and in his everyday life, and for his heroism and ultimate sacrifice, the News-Review posthumously honors Det. Simonsen as its 2019 Person of the Year.

Det. Brian Simonsen’s wife, Leanne, and mother, Linda, celebrate the honorary street renaming of South Jamesport Avenue in June. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

“He was an absolutely beautiful human being,” Sgt. LeGrady said.

The many tributes dedicated to preserving Det. Simonsen’s legacy speak to the lasting impression he left on so many. Riverhead varsity softball players organized a tribute before an April game and Det. Simonsen’s mother, Linda, and wife, Leanne, threw out two ceremonial first pitches. Many of the girls on the team knew Det. Simonsen from their neighborhood or their fathers were fellow police officers. A month later, the varsity baseball team retired his No. 21 jersey during a pregame ceremony. His No. 21 now hangs on the side of the Blue Waves’ dugout and a monument to the entrance of the field features “Smiles” engraved on the top and the No. 21 at the base.

Bob Ries, who led the ceremony that afternoon, said: “He leaves behind a legacy of service to others and a commitment of making his community a better place on a daily basis.”

In June, South Jamesport Avenue was named in the detective’s memory as dozens of police officers, local officials and residents gathered for a ceremony.

“This is where today and generations from now people will see this sign, read his name and ask about Det. Brian Simonsen,” former NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill said during the ceremony. “Each time that happens, it’s another opportunity for all of us to tell his story.”

Sean Mackie, a Riverhead Town police officer and lifelong friend of Det. Simonsen, spoke at the ceremony that afternoon and shared memories of them growing up on the road as teenagers.

“I think Smiles would have been overwhelmed, honored and humbled by this street dedication and I feel like I can speak for all of his close friends and family when I say that this area meant so much to him. This very street holds the roots to the Simonsen family and the memories that all of us who love Smiles will hold in our memories and hearts forever.”

Det. Simonsen’s legacy lives not only in the many memorials created, scholarships formed and police dog named in his memory, but through the lives of others who received his donated organs. It was one final selfless act, one final way to give back and help those in need.

For those individuals, and the many more whose lives were impacted by Det. Simonsen in ways big and small, he will forever be their hero.

“He leaves behind a legacy of service to others and a commitment of making his community a better place on a daily basis.”

Bob Ries

Previous Winners

2018: The Students of Mercy High School
2017: Byron Perez
2016: Tijuana Fulford
2015: Steve Beal, Kevin Burgess, Anthony Chiaramonte and J.R. Renten
2014: The Shoreham-Wading River football team
2013: Michael Hubbard
2012: Denise Lucas
2011: Laurie Nigro, Amy Davidson
2010: Linda Hobson
2009: Chris Kempner
2008: Riverhead Blue Waves
2007: Maureen’s Haven
2006: Sister Margaret Smyth
2005: Alan Shields
2004: Phil Cardinale
2003: Vince Tria
2002: Bryan Tressler
2001: Annie Jackson
2000: Judy Young
1999: Members of the First Congregational Church
1998: Eileen Miller
1997: Vinny Villella
1996: Vic Prusinowski
1995: Pat Stark
1994: Sonny Okula, Jim Kane
1993: Jack Van de Wetering
1992: Bobby Goodale
1991: Joe Janoski
1990: Robert Tooker
1989: Jim & Connie Lull
1988: Jesse Goodale