Gerald Simonds wheelchair icon

With a background in the aircraft industry and an enduring passion for developing and supplying lightweight manual wheelchairs for active users, Gerald Simonds, founder of Gerald Simonds Healthcare, has sadly passed away.

A pioneer in the lightweight wheelchair sector, Gerald made a name for himself in the early 1980s when he discovered the Swede 24, a chair that broke new ground by combining a rigid, non-folding frame with quick release rear wheels.

Eliminating the folding mechanism meant the frame could be optimised for minimum weight and maximum performance while the quick-release wheels made the chair easy to lift and transfer into a car. He saw in this chair the embodiment of the dictum of the late Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars: ‘Simplicate and add lightness’.

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In 1983, Simonds’ business, known today as Gerald Simonds Healthcare, became UK distributor of the Swede 24 wheelchair. The chair quickly found favour amongst the therapists and patients at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the world-famous centre of excellence in spinal injuries treatment and rehab, and acceptance swiftly followed at other rehab centres across the UK and Ireland.

Although the chair was designed for everyday use, it was seized upon by wheelchair athletes, especially basketball players, who found it gave them a huge advantage over the much heavier and less responsive traditional chairs they were used to.

Remaining at the forefront of lightweight wheelchairs, Gerald distinguished his company as being one of the leaders for innovation in the field as more wheelchairs adopted of aerospace-grade materials to create even lighter, stronger and more stylish models.

His enthusiasm for correctly configured lightweight wheelchairs and enhanced posture resulted in the improvement of many wheelchair users’ lives, many of whom had previously been constrained by the limitations of their chairs.

In February 2019, Gerald retired and Gerald Simonds Healthcare was sold to the Borrum Healthcare Group.

On the 3rd April 2020, the company confirmed its founder’s passing: “It is with great sadness that we have to announce the death of our founder Gerald.

“He was a key figure in the industry for many years having been the first person to import lightweight chairs to the UK. Many of our customers still remember purchasing their first chair from Gerald in his front room. The business grew to include the wide range of mobility and seating equipment that we are still working with today.  He was hugely respected by everyone in this field; the industry is a poorer place without his jovial presence.

“Our thoughts are with Gerald’s family at this difficult time.”

Reports suggest Gerald passed away after a short illness.

In the wake of the announcement, many in the industry expressed their condolences on social media and highlighted how well-respected and liked Gerald was in the mobility sector.

“So sad to hear this news. A gentleman in every respect that took the time to talk to us all at every opportunity. Truly a pioneer in our industry that will be missed by so many,” posted Alastair Gibbs, Managing Director of TPG DisableAids.

“Very sad news, a great man that did so much for the disability industry, his legacy will remain for years to come, thoughts are with you all and his family at this time,” commented Matthew James, Managing Director of Precision Rehab.

THIIS Magazine’s Founder David Russell said: “Very sad news. Gerald was one of the pioneers in the industry and a lovely man who supported many people to do good things. A real gentleman.”

Steve Perry, Marketing and Communications Manager at the British Healthcare Trades Association, posted: “I first met Gerald at the Stoke Mandeville Games when he introduced the first really light wheelchairs. Sad day for the industry and the family. He was one on our BHTA Lifetime Achievement Winners. Best wishes to the family.”

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