Tommy Simpson, British, 1937 - 1967
In 2017 I heard an interview with an Iranian teenage girl who was talking about Maryam Mirzakhani.
Maryam Mirzakhani was also Iranian and was born in Tehran in 1977. She was less than 2 years old when the Shah fell and Ayatollah Khomenei's government came to power. She attended school and went to university in Iran, and it quickly became clear that she had an outstanding talent for mathematics. At the height of the period of economic sanctions, she moved from the very Islamic Republic of Iran to America, the 'Great Satan. She, completed her Ph.D at Harvard University and became a professor at Princeton and Stanford. In 2014 she won the Fields Medal - the most prestigious award in mathematics. In 2017 she died of cancer at the cruelly young age of 40. Following her death, Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian President and an Islamic cleric, published a message praising her personally and lauding her achievements. This message was much discussed because it was accompanied by a photo of Maryam Mirzakhani with her hair uncovered, as she generally wore it.
For the schoolgirl this story was barely comprehensible, a tale of an incredible, rather odd, talent giving you wings that allowed you to fly away from the pessimistc drudgery of everyday life, into the exotic, optimistic, and possibly dangerous, unknown.
In a weird kind of way, I thought of this when I came to write a note about Tommy Simpson. Cycling is not remotely similar to mathematics, and becoming World Road Race Champion is hard to compare to winnig the Fields Medal. But there was something incomprehensible about a chatty, jokey, Englishman seriously challenging for the yellow jersey in sunlit France. It seemed a world away from the endless drizzle and small-mindedness of home.
This ‘document’ is a postage stamp issued by the Emirate of Ajman, a tiny place on the Persian Gulf that is now part of the UAE. All the evidence that I can find, indicates that it was issued in 1969, two years after Tommy Simpson's death.