Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 16, 2012
Here's looking at you, Todd!
Whenever I'm in my office in Kedzie Hall and look through the door, Todd looks back at me. During our department's 2010 centennial celebration, we hung portraits of our current and past department heads, and Todd's picture is opposite my door.
Most days, I also saw him when he walked briskly by on his way to class. Occasionally, he'd stop to chat.
But that won't happen again. Colleague and friend Todd Simon died early in the evening of March 5 at the much-too-young age of 61.
The next morning, the faculty assembled to discuss how to staff his classes, take care of his committee assignments and work with his advisees. But more than that, we came together to talk about the man we would all miss.
Most of us "went through the motions" the remainder of the week, reflecting on how someone we cared about could be there one day and gone the next.
Sunday evening, we said "goodbye" at a memorial service at the university's All Faiths Chapel. Photos of Todd as a youngster, as a young man with his future wife Geri and as a husband and father were on display in the lobby.
Faculty member Steve Smethers gave the opening remarks at the service.
"The sadness we feel is profound. As I posted on Facebook earlier this week, our students have lost a dedicated teacher, our faculty have lost a great colleague and mentor, Manhattan has lost a fine citizen who was politically and civically involved, the K-State women's basketball team and the K-State baseball team have lost one of their most ardent fans, and Kedzie Hall, at least for a little while, has lost a little of its soul."
Todd came from Michigan State University to be director of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University in the fall of 1997. I had just returned to work after being hospitalized several months with an auto-immune disease. I greatly appreciated the patience he had with me as I came back to some semblance of normalcy after my illness. In the years that followed, that same patience and careful attention to detail came to the fore again and again whenever he had to size up any difficult situation.
He stepped down as director of our program in 2004, but remained as a professor.
One of my tasks when I was organizing the centennial celebration was to put together a booklet with photos and brief biographies for each department head. I was truly amazed when I read what Todd had done. He practiced law early in his career, he was the author or co-author of six books, and he created classes in economics of mass communication and political communication.
Angela Powers, his successor as director, said of Todd Sunday night:
"Todd was a colleague, teacher and friend for more than 25 years. One of his most unique qualities was that he was a collector of people ... or maybe people collected him. Everywhere I went, someone had something good to say about Todd. Students, classmates, faculty all over the country were always extending their greetings and staying in touch with him."
Faculty members Tom Gould and Charles Pearce, as well as Michigan State University professor Stephen Lacy added their recollections about Todd.
Students shared stories about how he had influenced them. One student, laughing, commented that he and his classmates believed that Todd had as many excuses for not turning their papers back in a timely manner as they had for not turning them in by deadline.
Another, on Facebook, said, "Todd was so sharp and he was always quick to give help and advice ..."
I traveled with Todd to a National Newspaper Association conference in Washington, D.C. and on at least a couple of occasions to southeast Kansas, where we met with newspaper owners. He appreciated my work with community media in Kansas and around the country, and I will always be grateful for that support.
It was also obvious how proud Todd was of his family. I cannot say with certainty that I ever met his daughters, but he spoke of them so often that I felt as if I knew them.
As these comments suggest, in many ways, Todd was a serious man. But you had to look a bit closer to see his other side. One student said, "My favorite Simon moment was sitting in his editing and design class for 45 minutes talking about the rules of hyphenation, only for him to end it with, 'well, the rules are obsolete, so as long as you can justify using it, do so.'"
Another, for me, was watching him carefully "steering" his ever-present coffee cup down the hall or outside for a cigarette.
One day he wore his "SpongeBob SquarePants" shirt to a faculty meeting. It turned out we had a faculty picture taken that day. In that photo, Todd had his hand on his hip as if to say, "Formality can be vastly over-rated."
Today when I look up from my desk, Todd is still looking back. But now I think of that "other" photo, the coffee cup, the hyphenation story ... and I smile.