Rather: Bob Simon a scholar correspondent

Updated 2:42 PM EST, Thu February 12, 2015

Story highlights

"60 Minutes" correspondent Bob Simon died in a car accident Wednesday

Dan Rather: Simon was one of the best writers ever to work in TV journalism

Editor’s Note: Dan Rather is a former anchor of “CBS Evening News” and “60 Minutes” correspondent. The views expressed are his own.

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This came to me in the middle of the night last night as I failed to make sleep come hours after learning that my friend and long-time colleague Bob Simon had lost his life. Death took him in a car crash in New York City.

Bob and I had drunk from the same canteen more than once during the 48 years we had known each other, 38 of those working together at CBS News. Once, in South Africa I think it was, we were talking over an adult beverage or two in the shank of an evening about dangerous assignments, a subject about which Bob was experienced and expert. With a piercing look and a hint of that slightly off-center smile he sometimes had, he said something along the lines of, “More correspondents are injured getting out of the shower and more are killed in automobile accidents than probably anywhere else.” The irony of that memory mixed with how death took him is painful and lingers.

I’ve been trying for a long while to come up with an adequate way to describe how devastating Bob’s loss is to those of us who knew him, to CBS News and to quality journalism.  But words are failing me.  They never failed Bob.  He was one of the best writers ever to work in television journalism.  He was a master of expressing so much with so few words, perfectly chosen and ordered.

But Bob’s words were more than just pretty or evocative. They were not there to stand on their own ceremony.  They were chosen to convey information, important information, and lots of it.  Bob could and often did write like a poet, but his every fiber was that of a journalist.  He was old school, in the style of Edward R. Murrow: notepad, shoe-leather, play no favorites, pull no punches and go where the action is.

To look at Bob’s roll call of overseas postings is to see the embodiment of a foreign correspondent.  From Vietnam to Northern Ireland to his specialty, the Middle East, Bob thrived on difficult and dangerous assignments.  His bravery was matched only by his unwavering professionalism.  And yet, even here Bob’s story is incomplete. 

Dan Rather
PHOTO: Lynton Gardiner
Dan Rather

He didn’t just witness history, he strived to understand it.  Yes, he was fearless when bullets were flying, but he also never blinked when staring down a despot or thug in an interview.  He was always prepared.  He knew when he was being lied to or toyed with, and rather than shirk from the challenge, he would embrace it and become more determined to expose the truth, or as close to the truth as possible.

Bob was sophisticated, one of the few genuine “scholar correspondents” in television. He was extremely well read, urbane and poised.  He also had a good sense of humor and sometimes was downright funny.  There was no issue he couldn’t cover, no story he couldn’t tell.  Television is of course a visual medium, but with a Bob Simon piece, if you closed your eyes and just listened, that was often enough. His words and his voice had that power.

It was a privilege to know him, an honor to have worked with him.

My deepest condolences go to his widow Francoise, and their beloved daughter, Tanya, herself a very accomplished journalist.  I also mourn with the rest of the CBS News family. Bob was the very best of that network’s news traditions. 

He had unbounded curiosity and uncommon compassion.  He searched out stories that he felt were important, and then brought them to light with an elegance and intuition that will be sorely missed everywhere that good journalism is valued.

And within the “60 Minutes” offices, his absence will be felt especially keenly: the twinkle in his eye, the joke, the story, just Bob being Bob, all of that gone in an instant.  Now, only memories remain. That and the example he set.

Godspeed my friend.  May you continue to inspire those of us left behind.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Rather.