John Y. Simon (1933-2008) Passes Away

Today I learned of sad news, first from a good friend, then from this article.

Since 1967 The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant has been a model of documentary editing.  It certainly has been important to my work.  I own all twenty-eight volumes, with two more just appearing now. 

John Y. Simon headed the project that published those papers.  He was an imposing presence, with a sharp and subtle wit (well, always sharp, and usually subtle).  I first met him in 1985, when I visited Carbondale to look at some of the papers associated with the project and with Grant (as opposed to the files of documents to be published by the project–those were off limits).  John and his wife Harriet hosted me at dinner, and if you’ve been to Carbondale (as Steve Woodworth can testify), that was a welcome relief from the prospect of fast food.  John helped secure my first opportunity to review a book for the journal of the Association for Documentary Editing (called, appropriately enough, Documentary Editing), reviewed the manuscript of my first article for Civil War History prior to my submitting it, and on the whole was supportive of my early endeavors.

Over the past two decades John and I appeared at various conferences and institutes, including Gettysburg College’s Civil War Institute (2001) and at a meeting of the Police Chiefs of New Jersey (2007).  At the latter meeting he was still recovering from the effects of an accident, but that did not dampen his wit or dim the twinkle in his eye as we were held hostage in a limo by a driver who had lost his way in downtown Trenton.  He was unfailingly polite when we met.  We also collaborated on several projects, most notably the American Experience series on Grant.

John enjoyed life a great deal, and one almost always found him funny, even if the barb was directed at you.  He was blessed to be married to Harriet, who always looked out for his best interests.  He had a deep interest in Grant and The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant remains an essential resource.  Agree with him, disagree with him, engage him in give and take–he was a person, a force, with which I had to reckon, and I’ll miss him.             

Comments (12) to “John Y. Simon (1933-2008) Passes Away”

  1. I was shocked and saddened by the death of Dr. Simon. What a tremendous loss! I, too, had several collaborative experiences with Dr. Simon. I remember most fondly how he took the time to read and comment on an article I was submitting to Civil War History. Now this was way back in 1989 and I was a but a low-life, snot-nosed graduate student and he could easily have tossed it in the circular file (several others did just that) But he was so interested in ANYTHING Grant that crossed his desk that he read the article closely and provided some excellent comments. When I thanked him for his efforts and for producing the Grant Papers, he was genuinely touched.

    Though I never took a class from him or had the pleasure of meeting him, Dr. Simon profoundly impacted my career and for that I am forever grateful.

    I imagine that somewhere, right now, John is shaking hands with Grant and receiving a warm thanks from the General for a job well done.

  2. I too am very saddened to learn of Dr. Simon. I count myself lucky as I met him a couple of times during my Civil War travels over the years, and he was always willing to listen to my questions about Grant, and about the Civil War.

    IIRC, and I do think Brooks was on the panel as well, but I remember watching a Grant show on CSPAN a few years ago, and Dr. Simon answered every question directed to him as honestly as he always did. We lost a giant today in terms of teachers of the Civil War, and while he can’t be replaced, he leaves us with a body of work that future CW historians and students of the war will continue to use forever.

    My condolences to his family and friends. He will be missed.

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve Basic

  3. Brooks,

    That is very sad news. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Simon, I can certainly appreciate the enormous amount of research and the enormous number of people he positively affected prior to his passing.

  4. What a tremendous loss. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Simon on several occasions, and not only did I learn a lot from him, I also laughed a lot with him. He was a very warm and generous man, and he loved to laugh.

    I remember the first time I met Dr. Simon was standing line for lunch at a conference in Petersburg during the 125th anniversary of the Crater. He was entertaining everyone in line within hearing distance, and the conversation ranged from U.S. Grant to the fortunes of the Chicago Cubs. In fact, I think he talked about the Cubs every time I saw him, and it is all the more sad to me that we lost him during a season when the Cubs are showing some real potential.

    Rest in Peace, Dr. Simon. You will be missed.

  5. I wanted to add a quick note to your blog.
    I had Dr. Simon for three courses as an undergraduate at SIU-C and with his mixture of fact filled and interesting lectures and great sense of humor they are courses I will never forget. He was a treasure to the SIU-C community and to the students, faculty, and staff. We will all miss him greatly.

  6. This is very sad news for his family and the CW community. I met him this past January at a CW symposium in Florida and appreciated the time he took to answer my questions. He cannot be replaced.

  7. I not only had Dr. Simon for two classes, I had the priviledge of being a grad asst. for him for a number of months. He was always encouraging, engaging and a delight be around. Being from the area, I knew his wife and daughter, and my thoughts are with them.

  8. I am utterly amazed by the number of names and/or memories I recognize by these postings. All of us “snot-nosed” graduate students did grow up and JYS never stopped teaching and also learning from all his students, never, ever thinking us as “snot-nosed” as we probably were. His memorial service will be Sunday, August 24, 2008 at Shryock Auditorium at SIU-C in Carbondale. If you are able to come, please do, I’d like to meet you, some of whose names I remember from your writings. If you cannot make it, I am drts@aol.com, and would like to know you. I was his graduate student 1977-1982, volumes 5-12 of PUSG, and am proud to be the first graduate student to finish a PH.D under him. (Yes, he was that tough, thankfully). It was worth it. After I drop my son off at college (named Grant, of course), I’ll be at his memorial. Harriet and Ellen and the girls would love to know your memories. Thanks, Tamara Melia Smith

  9. Does anyone know the name of Dr. Simon’s son that passed away? I think I knew him when I was a child and lived in Highland Park, Illinois

  10. Philip was his son. I just left Dr. Simon\’s Memorial service. He is sorely missed by many. He was a good man.

  11. I must say that I was shocked that Dr. Simon had passed away. I had the pleasure of taking a couple of his courses at SIU and without a doubt consider him the best lecturer. I often found myself entertained realizing I had not taken any notes. What a loss! It’s been almost 30+ years and I still possess texts from his classes. Funny, I am currently reading Grants memoir’s. God bless John Simon!

  12. It is with a tremendous sense of sadness that I just read about Mr. Simon’s passing. We had exchanged emails two years ago about our family history with John A. Rawlins and US Grant. I had sent Mr. Simon family letters from Mr. Rawlins to Mrs Grant and other correspondence concerning Levi Lucky, James Rawlins and Hiram Smith (gggrandfather) and President Grant. Mr. Simon was excited about the newly found family connections and our family memorabilia. I had told him that when I returned to family research and had the time to go through the family trunk, I would send him all that I learned…..Unfortunately, my procrastination meant he never got to the chance to see what was in there. How saddened I am, for him to be gone…My condolences to the family.