A note from TCN editor Bill Dawson:
We here at Texas Climate News are immensely sad that Jim Simmon, this website’s deputy editor from its founding in 2008 through last year, has died at the far too young age of 63.
Jim, a Houston resident, was found dead this week. He was suffering from early onset dementia and appears to have drowned, having gotten lost one night soon after Hurricane Harvey had passed but much of the city was still very unsettled. He was discovered in a location where floodwaters reportedly lingered for a number of days.
We send our condolences to his family and to everyone else who loved him.
A veteran of the Houston Post, Houston Chronicle and Houston Press, Jim was my first choice to be TCN’s part-time deputy editor. His main duty here was to critique and make all needed corrections and revisions in the articles that I wrote. He also offered general and invaluable editorial advice. As I had no doubt would be the case, he made my writing – and this publication as a whole – far better than they would have been if he hadn’t joined us.
He was one of the finest writers and editors – and one of the smartest, best-informed, most thoughtful, most independent-minded people – that I ever met.
Jim was also a man of sweepingly broad interests and enthusiasms – from Lightnin’ Hopkins to the 13th Floor Elevators’ Roky Erickson, from Thomas Pynchon to “Dharma & Greg,” from the Astros to Zen meditation and aesthetics.
Mary Flood, a friend and former colleague of Jim’s, conveyed a bit of his remarkable variety on Facebook. He was, she wrote,
…a dear friend, a proud father, a husband, a lover, a wit, a great journalist, an insatiable reader, a seeker of justice, a Louisiana boy, an Astros fan and a man who really knew how to dance to Clifton Chenier’s zydeco.
Tony Freemantle, Chronicle senior editor, said of Jim:
We remember him for his sharp wit, his commitment to facts and the truth, and his dedication to holding those in power accountable. He was also a very good man.
In a Facebook tribute, Jim’s friend and former colleague Alan Bernstein wrote this:
There were times when he came across as gruff or dismissive, maybe because he detested artifice. But like many who are seen that way, he was really a sentimental soft touch, especially when it came to his loved ones and Louisiana, where he grew up. The flip side to his low, or no, tolerance for bullshit was his eye for the genuine.
Jim also had a keen interest in the quirky and unexpected and unexplained. His curiosity was sparked, for instance, by suggestions scattered here and there, by Texas writer Larry McMurtry and others, that Pynchon, the publicity-shunning writer of kaleidoscopic novels that are both intellectually daunting and goofily hilarious, had lived in Houston in the 1960s.
Jim researched and then, with characteristic drollery, ruminated about the Pynchon/Houston hints on the blog he produced. This excerpt will, I hope, give you a small but telling idea of what a joy it could be to be in Jim’s company, in person or in print:
Other wispy emanations suggest that Pynchon is “no stranger” to Houston: the epigraph from 1990’s “Vineland” comes from a song by the late Houston bluesman Johnny “Clyde” Copeland (“Every dog has its day, and a good dog just might have two”) and, as the authoritative PynchonWiki puts it, the author is “known to be a fan of Roky Erickson.” Maybe Pynchon saw ’em both, back in the day. The mind reels with possibility…it do!
Our own theory is that Pynchon, a Navy veteran who has always seemed deeply knowledgeable in the ways of the water, may have hung his hat here briefly while working as a deckhand or as a crew member of some vessel, perhaps an ocean-going one or one that plied the Ship Channel (as the late Sterling Morrison did some 20 years later), possibly to get away from the encroaching fame his first novel was bringing, or possibly to woodshed and write (and what better place to hide away than the east side of Houston in the 1960s!). We wonder whether Pynchon, who supposedly underwent orthodontic work in the 1960s, may have visited our Uncle Ansley the dentist, who made a modest living for many years fixing the teeth of longshoremen and seafarers out of his small office on Broadway.
True or not, the Pynchon-in-Houston mystery nicely reflects the elusive nature of both the man and his work, and if he even lived here for just one cold, lonely month, that seals the deal: This is one World Class city! (We expect the first three-day “Pynchon Festival” to get under way at Discovery Green [a downtown park] by 2012, at the latest. BYOB.)
From one Pynchon fan to another: Thanks for everything, Jim. We’re sure going to miss you.