Bill Simmons, Democrat-Gazette Political Editor, Ex-AP Bureau Chief, Dies at 71

by Kelly P. Kissel, The Associated Press  on Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 9:12 pm  

Monday night, Bumpers recalled that Simmons was among the first people to interview him when he was a little-known attorney considering a run for governor. Bumpers called Simmons a friend.

"He was well-respected by all the politicians I knew," Bumpers said. "They knew the story he'd write would be accurate, even if it might not be favorable."

Former U.S. senator and Gov. David Pryor, who replaced Bumpers as governor, said the veteran reporter's death would "leave a big vacancy in Arkansas journalism."

"He was an old-line tough journalist who had a zeal for communicating big stories," Pryor said.

But Simmons also had a soft side, demonstrated when he bought a puppy from Pryor when Pryor was governor.

"For many years he would keep us posted to that particular animal," Pryor noted.

Simmons' surveys of political candidates were legendary, often with hundreds of questions. A 1992 survey conducted by Simmons for the AP became an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Huckabee suggested in his answers that AIDS patients be isolated from the rest of society, and after the AP reported again about the comments in late 2007, generating a hubbub before the Iowa caucuses, Simmons wrote an email to the journalist working the story that said simply, "You're welcome."

The Arkansas Press Association this year honored Simmons with its Golden 50 Award, given to journalists with more than five decades in the business. In addition to his work at the AP and Democrat-Gazette, Simmons was a copy boy in 1958 at the Arkansas Gazette and worked three years as a sportswriter there.

"It's hard to imagine that anyone has accumulated more knowledge about the state and covered more government and politics than Bill," former AP Little Rock Chief of Bureau Robert Shaw, who succeeded Simmons, wrote as the APA prepared to honor Simmons last summer.

In the 1980s, Simmons used his expertise on elections to help an AP team build a uniform vote-collection system to tabulate results — a forerunner to the system used by nationwide media today.

"In prior years, AP gathered these returns through local arrangements set up by each state bureau, creating a quilt-work of approaches," Shaw said. "Bill acted as a consultant to the AP group and, in a few instances, advised other bureaus on building their databases for the national system."

Simmons was born Sept. 23, 1941. He was preceded in death by his wife, Jane; in addition to his son Toby, Simmons is survived by his daughter, Teddi Cole.

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