Bob Simon's Daughter (and Producer) Pens Poignant Tribute: "His War Stories Were My Bedtime Stories" (Guest Column)
Tanya Simon grew up hiding the keys from her father so he wouldn't leave. But he was a '60 Minutes' correspondent and spent 47 years covering the world's dangers. Now, in The Hollywood Reporter's New York Issue, his only daughter writes about the life and work they shared and the final, tragic night he did not make it home.
This story first appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
If you'd asked my dad what he thought his greatest accomplishment was over his 47-year career as a journalist, he'd probably tell you it was having a job that never felt like work. He'd had other jobs before joining CBS News — at the U.N.; in the Foreign Service. But those weren't for him. The office wasn't his natural habitat. The road was. And he spent a lot of time on some of the most dangerous roads in the world. Route 1 during the Vietnam War. Sniper Alley in Sarajevo. The IED-littered road from Erbil to Kirkuk in Iraq. And during the first Gulf War, a desolate road in the no man's land on the Saudi-Kuwaiti border near the front lines, where he was taken prisoner and held for 40 days. But he always made it home, more often than not with great stories to tell. It never occurred to me that his last road traveled would be a dreary stretch of New York City's West Side Highway.
From a young age, I was aware of my dad's mortality and of the necessary risks he took to do his job. When he was sent to cover the fall of Saigon in 1975, I was 4 years old. We were living in London, and CBS News wasn't broadcast there at the time; when my dad stopped appearing on the nightly news, I thought that meant he was dead, and there was very little my mother could say to convince me otherwise. I wanted to climb into the TV and find him. After that, I tried to stop him from leaving home. One time I hid his house keys, figuring he'd spend so much time looking for them that he'd miss his flight. Only I wasn't as clever as I thought. I ran through the apartment shrieking, "Your keys are hot!" Sure enough, he found them lodged behind the radiator and jetted off to whatever danger zone was beckoning. I don't remember where he went — maybe Northern Ireland — but he undoubtedly came back with war stories. His war stories were my bedtime stories. The versions he told his little girl always had happy endings.
Father and daughter skiing in France in the '70s.
Now, some 40 years later, I'm a producer at the CBS News program 60 Minutes. I went into this business because of my dad's adventures. But when I first started, I didn't want to be known as "Bob Simon's daughter." I was going to make it on my own. So, before reporting for my first day of work at 60 Minutes in April of 2000, I told my dad I couldn't be seen with him. He wasn't allowed to talk to me or stop by my office. And he didn't. Instead, he walked down the hallway carrying pictures of me as a baby and telling anyone who would listen that his kid was the new associate producer on the ninth floor. It turned out to be the perfect icebreaker. For my first several years at 60 Minutes, our paths didn't really cross, at least not professionally. But it was great having him around. I'd seek refuge in his office, confide in him, run stories by him, listen to his jokes, tell him they were funny and then hit him up for a free lunch. It was like being a kid all over again. And then I became his producer.
Our first story together was a profile of snowboarding phenom Shaun White, which we shot in the mountains of Colorado's rugged backcountry. Shaun had his own top-secret training facility there to prepare for the 2010 Olympics. To prepare my dad for the altitude, I took him skiing, which we hadn't done together in years. But I was conflicted about this assignment: working with my dad. What if our bosses were harder on us because we were father and daughter? Would I be disappointed in my dad? Would he be disappointed in me? It was a lot of pressure. I've never made sure a correspondent was better lit or better groomed. My dad, of course, didn't think about any of that. He just thought it was a gas to be going on the road with me. And it was. The minute the cameras started rolling, I knew we'd be OK. Shaun White was a delight. My dad was a pro. And he didn't disappoint.
Our bosses must have liked the story well enough because they asked us to do another — about a skirmish between a group of American nuns and the Vatican. As I sat in on my dad's interviews, I was amazed at how much this Jewish kid from the Bronx knew about Christian Scripture. I was also reminded of how mischievous he could be when he got into a debate with an archbishop about birth control and sex. Suffice it to say, it got pretty graphic. Thankfully, I had power as his producer that I didn't have as his daughter: Much of that footage landed on the cutting-room floor.
On the job in Detroit for a 2013 story about the city’s bankruptcy.
Our third story took us to Detroit, a city in ruins that fascinated him because it reminded him, he said, of Mogadishu — a comment that didn't go over too well with the locals. In time-honored tradition, we celebrated the end of a successful shoot at a local watering hole with our crew. Pretty soon, those of us with children were sharing cellphone pictures of them. My dad said, wistfully, "It's funny how much we miss our kids when we're on the road." I had to remind him that his own kid was sitting next to him. I think sometimes he had a hard time accepting that I was all grown up.
The last piece we did together was about an experimental drug being manufactured to treat Ebola. Over the course of four months, we crisscrossed North America. We wrote the script at my apartment one January day during a snowstorm, taking the occasional break to go sledding with my 3-year-old son, Jack. The piece was scheduled to run in mid-February of this year. We were putting the finishing touches on it on Wednesday, Feb. 11. That evening, with one paragraph left to tweak, my dad left for an appointment. He said he'd be back soon to wrap things up. He said good-bye and walked out the door. But that night, he never came back.