William Kelly Simpson was born on January 3rd, 1928 in New York City. After graduating from Buckley School (New York) and Phillips Academy (Andover, Massachusetts), he received his B.A. (1947) and M.A. (1948) in English from Yale University. Afterwards he was hired as Curatorial Assistant in the Egyptian Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1948-1954. At the same time, Simpson pursued a PhD under the tutelage of Ludlow Bull, with his dissertation focusing on the Met’s excavation of the pyramid of Amenemhet I at Lisht. He also participated in the British School of Archaeology’s excavation in Nimrud, Iraq.

After the completion of his Ph.D. in 1954, Simpson received a Fulbright Fellowship, with which he visited Egypt, excavated at the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur under the leadership of Ahmed Fakhry, and joined the University of Pennsylvania excavation at Mitrahineh.

Simpson became a Research Fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University in 1956, before Yale University offered him an assistant professorship in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures in 1958, followed by an associate professorship in 1963 and a full professorship in 1965, which he held until his retirement in 2004. During his time at Yale, he lead a joint team from the University of Pennsylvania and Yale to Toshka and Arminna as part of the UNESCO campaign to save the Nubian monuments to excavate Egyptianizing tombs and Late Meroitic cemeteries and later to Abydos to work on the Middle Kingdom remains there. 

From 1967 to 1970, Simpson served as chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures at Yale. From 1970 to 1986, he took on the curatorship of the Department of Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston commuting between Boston and New Haven. During his time in Boston he reopened the Museum of Fine Arts’ excavation at Giza.

Simpson also taught in the Departments of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania and he was lecturer at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton, the College de France in Paris, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon.

Simpson served three times as president of the International Association of Egyptologists as well as president and later chairman of the Board of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vice-Chairman of the Board of the American University in Cairo, and Trustee of the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Research Center in Egypt.

In addition, Simpson served as member of the Collectors Committee of the National Gallery and the International Council of The Museum of Modern Art, the Visiting Committees at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art. Furthermore, he served as Trustee of Musee Barbier-Muller, Geneva and The Museum of Primitive Art (now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art). He held memberships in the Century Association, Union Club, the University Club, the Metropolitan Opera Club, River Club, Bedford Golf and Tennis Club, Piping Rock Club, Squadron A Association, Sons of the American Revolution, the Elizabethan Club of Yale, the Graduate Club at Mory’s (New Haven), and the Union Boat Club (Boston). Finally, his trusteeships included the Marilyn Milton Simpson Charitable Trust, Rockefeller Family Fund, Historic Hudson Valley, Wrexham Foundation Inc. (Yale University), Katonah Museum of Art, Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, Friends of the John Jay Homestead, Bedford Riding Lanes Association, and Beaver Dam Sanctuary. Also, he was elected for membership in the American Oriental Society, the American Philosophical Society, and the German and Austrian Archeological Institutes.

Among the awards Simpson received are the Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Research Centre, Egypt, the Award for Distinguished Service from the American University in Cairo, the Medal of Honor for Distinguished Service in Egyptology and Egypt from the Egyptian Minister of Culture and the Organizing Committee of the 8th International Congress of Egyptologists in Cairo. In addition, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the American University of Cairo and he was awarded the Augustus Graham Medal by the Brooklyn Museum for service to Egyptology and the Museum.