James B. “Jim” Simmon, the 63-year-old former editor of the Houston Press, was a hard-working, gifted journalist with little patience for absurdity or pomposity — especially among the politicians he often covered. And he had a wickedly dry sense of humor.
Two years after a cover story spliced a photo of a local politician’s head onto a bulldog with the words “Watchdog? Lapdog? Or just a dog?” Simmon wrote an apology. He pointed out that the Press had been alone when it questioned this politician’s honesty. But more recently other media outlets had jumped on the bandwagon and were attacking this politician, making his life a living hell, and it was time to say sorry for the Press initiative that pushed the word “dogboy” into the local political pool.
So Simmon apologized. To the dogs. And then assigned the politician a new nickname. Weasel.
On September 12, Simmon was found dead in a field after family members and friends had searched for him since his disappearance from the Black Hole, a coffee shop, on August 30. He had called his son Luke that night saying he was near the Fort Bend Independent School District Aquatic Center, but his son didn’t have access to a car and wasn’t able to drive there right away. With all the other rescues going on in post-Hurricane Harvey flooding, Simmon’s ex-wife Jamie Kaelin told The New York Times that she couldn’t get any help, even by calling 911. By the time Luke got there the next day, his father was nowhere in evidence.
Simmon’s body was found about a mile from the aquatic center. It was not the ending anyone wanted for this man who for most of his life had such a keen mind and a deft way with words.
But early onset dementia had set in and although Simmon was able to hide this for a while from friends and acquaintances, his condition worsened. He maintained his interest in the things he loved — such as Astros baseball — but according to Kaelin, he could become confused negotiating the normal aspects of life.
“He must have gotten lost when he went over to the Black Hole, which he’d been there 100 times. In fact, they were sending us messages he was their favorite customer,” Kaelin said. “He must have gotten disoriented somehow, some way. He obsessively walked down Bissonnet is what happened.”
Kaelin said there was a plus side to the dementia. Simmon was well known to family and friends as being a somewhat acerbic character. “The past six months I saw more sympathy and compassion in Jim Simmon — I mean I always knew it was there — he would overtly say sweet things,” she said.
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A Louisiana native, Simmon came to Texas and stayed. He was editor of the Houston Press from 1994 to 1997. Prior to that he was a reporter and assistant city editor at The Houston Post. He was a political editor at the Houston Chronicle and the city editor at the Bryan-College Station Eagle. More recently, he was a part-time deputy editor of Texas Climate News from 2008 through 2016.
Simmon is survived by his son Luke Simmon and daughter Irene Simmon. By press time no final decision had been made by the family on whether there would be a memorial service.
Asked for anything else she wanted to say about Simmon, Kaelin said:
“He was good and true always. In the end he couldn’t figure out to lock the front door, but you could ask him anything about music, vinyl records, literature, old music, the Astros, current events and he was on it.”