NEW YORK (AP) — Former "60 Minutes" reporter Bob Simon is remembered as one of television's ultimate international correspondents, but speakers paying tribute to him Thursday painted a vivid picture of the off-camera man who loved the opera, telling dirty jokes, naps at a moment's notice and was spiritual without being religious.
CBS honored the 27-time Emmy winner, who died in a Manhattan car crash on Feb. 11, with a memorial service.
Jeff Fager, "60 Minutes" executive producer and Simon's former boss, said he remembered the day he died being one of Simon's happiest, because he just learned that a story he made with his producer daughter, Tanya, would be on that week's show — bumping off another reporter's story.
"I miss him greatly," said producer Draggan Mihailovich. "I miss his laugh, his sense of the absurd, his love of irony and his love for the written word."
Audience members heard stories of heroism from some of the 130 countries Simon reported from, including a producer who said Simon saved his life in Vietnam and a former prison of war in the Gulf War held captive in the same set of cells where Simon was held by Iraqi forces for 40 days in 1991. Former U.S. Air Force Col. David Eberly called him "a hero of Desert Storm."
Simon often used his sense of humor to defuse tense situations or, just because he liked to tell a good joke. His favorites "ranged from off color to way off color," Fager said.
After many years overseas, he returned to New York for "60 Minutes" in 2007. His subspecialties testified to his range, becoming the broadcast's resident expert on animals, opera and stand-up comics, the latter because he harbored a secret desire to try it himself, said producer Joel Bernstein. The Jewish kid who grew up in the Bronx became an expert on Christianity, and did a memorable 2011 story on a monastery in Greece.
"To all the places he went, he brought a rare combination of experience, knowledge and a sense of empathy," said Father Maximos Constas of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras on Mount Athos. "He never lost sight of the individual. He never doubted that what was broken could be mended, what was lost could be found again."
His daughter Tanya recalled waiting for her father to return from dinner on Feb. 11 to work on the story. She expected it to be him when the phone rang — only it was Fager with horrible news.
She couldn't watch CBS News' tribute to Simon in the days after his death, but now is glad there is so much work he left behind.
"Publicly his work will be his legacy," she said. "Privately, it will be our salve."