Bob Simmons couldn’t help being a reporter, whether it was broadcasting news for KING 5, writing for various publications after his retirement, or, as a much younger man, editing his daughter’s homework.
“He absolutely loved journalism every day,” said his wife, Dee Simmons. “Long and difficult hours, but he did just really love it.”
Mr. Simmons died peacefully Saturday at Whatcom Hospice House in Bellingham, with Dee by his side. It was their 62nd wedding anniversary, and three days before his 89th birthday.
Mr. Simmons had been diagnosed with a lung disease two years earlier, but didn’t suffer in the last few weeks, his wife said.
“He had a wonderful life,” she said.
Mr. Simmons was born in Perlee, Iowa on June 18, 1930, and grew up as a farmboy. He thought he’d become a farmer, said former KING 5 colleague Randy Partin, but after stumbling upon a journalism course at Iowa State University, those plans changed. Mr. Simmons ended up graduating with a horticultural journalism degree, and began working as a radio and television farm reporter in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said his youngest daughter, Caryn Simmons.
“Sort of an intellectual farmboy,” said Partin, who was a KING 5 photographer and later an assignment editor.
Shortly after meeting Dee and getting married, Mr. Simmons moved to Connecticut, where he worked at a Hartford radio station while pursuing his master’s degree in political science at Trinity College. The couple had their first two children — Eric and Amy — before flying across the country, where Mr. Simmons joined KNXT, the Los Angeles-based affiliate for CBS now called KCBS-TV, as the Sacramento bureau chief.
While working for the station, Mr. Simmons covered Ronald Reagan when he was governor, the 1965 Watts riots and the free speech and anti-war movements at the University of California, Berkeley — and welcomed his third kid, Caryn.
Mr. Simmons briefly returned to Connecticut after seven years in Sacramento to complete a Columbia University fellowship, but eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he covered the 1974 shootout between police at the so-called Symbionese Liberation Army for KNXT.
In 1977, he moved to a home in Lake Forest Park and joined KING 5.
“He was a real seasoned journalist by the time he came to KING, so it was really easy to work with Bob. He could do a better job of finding stories than I could,” Partin said.
Mr. Simmons provided political commentary and worked for the station’s “Top Story” segment, which provided deep dives into local stories.
“I can still see his face in those discussions,” said Michael James, a former KING 5 anchor who worked with Mr. Simmons on “Top Story” segments. “His was the inquiring voice. His was the voice of ‘How can we do this?’ His was the voice of ‘What is the real question here?’ In some ways, a person like that is almost the soul of the newsroom because he keeps the newsroom focused on what it’s about.”
Partin said he also remembers Mr. Simmons as one of the first to start reporting on environmental news, which eventually led to his 1990 Emmy Award-winning project on development in the Snoqualmie Valley.
“He was very smart, and I never saw him lose his temper,” Partin said. “Newsrooms can be emotionally violent places … Bob would float above all that. If you wanted a sober, quiet, reflective analysis, Bob was our guy.”
When Mr. Simmons retired from KING 5 after 14 years, the business was switching ownership from the Bullitt family, which owned the company for almost 45 years.
But he wasn’t finished with writing.
He submitted book reviews to The Seattle Times and freelanced for the Seattle Weekly, Eastside Weekly and Crosscut before he and his wife moved to Bellingham.
In Bellingham, Mr. Simmons stayed busy. He pored over poetry, particularly the work of W.B. Yeats. He continued writing for Crosscut and picked up stories for Cascadia Weekly. He performed in several local theater productions, including “Inherit the Wind” and “On Golden Pond.” He tended to his vegetable garden — which was ripe with sugar snap peas, broccoli, beets, cauliflower and spinach. And he devoted himself to his family.
“Family was a big life passion,” Dee Simmons said.
He was endlessly generous, said Caryn Simmons, and never failed to invite her friends over during the holidays, answer mundane gardening questions or give writing advice.
Her dad would often stay awake past midnight with her when she was in school, editing her papers and gently guiding her through the passages of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style.” He taught her how to write without being overbearing, she said.
“He was a fiery and earthy man,” his daughter said. “He had a beautiful balance.”
Mr. Simmons is survived by his wife and three children — Eric Simmons, 58, of Okanogan; Amy Holtorf, 56, of Bellingham; and Caryn Simmons, 54, of Bellingham — as well as his three grandchildren, Nathan, Molly and Mason.
A celebration for Mr. Simmons is being held at 2 p.m. June 30 at Lairmont Manor, 405 Fieldston Road, Bellingham. Donations may be made to Whatcom Hospice House, 2806 Douglas Ave., Bellingham, WA 98225.