Bob and Joy Simon are in a dire situation.
They are not facing it alone.
The Simons have been visible and beloved fixtures on College Hill for half a century. Bob is the Walcott-Bartlett Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Hamilton, where he and Joy have always seemed to be nearly everywhere – sporting events, plays, presentations, or wherever students might be involved in doing their best.
They haven’t been out and about as much since Bob was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late last year. Since then, the outpouring of concern and the level of support for the Simons from the College community and beyond has been phenomenal.
“It makes me want to cry,” Bob said.
We’re a very small community and we kind of look out for each other.
Students, coaches, support staff, faculty colleagues, and neighbors have provided meals, shoveled driveways, helped Bob get into shape for surgery, made the Simon home more accessible, sent messages of support, and helped in many other ways. Some alumni even visited when he was being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Former members of his Continental golf teams rallied round, as well.
“We’re a very small community and we kind of look out for each other,” said Bill Huggins, associate director of the physical plant, whose crews have worked on the Simons’ Stryker Lane home to make it easier for Bob to get around. “Everybody likes Bob. There is a lot of respect for him. When we knew he was down, we wanted to keep him as comfortable as we could.”
The Simons have a particularly close bond with Hamilton’s basketball teams – “If you’re from New York you love basketball,” said Bob, a Long Island native – and especially with the women’s program. It was their absence from a December 9 game that sparked the enormous surge of support.
“People wondered where we were,” Simon said.
Once the diagnosis was known, the team and the community swung into action. Coach Michelle Collins always has been awed by the Simons’ dedication, from Bob serving as a faculty liaison for the players, to their attendance at road games on rugged winter nights, to Joy’s compiling scrapbooks for all the seniors each year. It was natural for her team to jump in and help.
“I can’t even begin to scratch the surface on how vital Bob has been to our program and the Hamilton community as a whole,” Collins said. “When alumnae and people in the community think of the women’s basketball program, Bob and Joy certainly are front and center. I can’t thank Bob and Joy enough for all they’ve done for our program over the years.”
Captains Kate Bushell ’17 and Caroline Barrett ’17, led the way as team members walked with Simon in the field house, getting him physically fit for a May surgery date.
“They walked with me every single day,” Simon said. “The doctor said without them I might not have been strong enough to have the surgery if they hadn’t.”
“They are just like family to us,” Barrett said. “They put in a huge effort to come to all of our games. They are so humble and so giving. We just walk around for 30 minutes. He’d say, ‘I can’t believe you are doing this.’ But we looked at it as a chance to give an ounce back for what they’ve given us for so many years.”
Bushell said it hurt that Simon couldn’t attend the annual Riffle dinner that honors Hamilton’s senior athletes.
“He is an absolute pillar of the Hamilton basketball community,” she said. “My dad came to a lot of games and got to know Bob very well. Every parent knew exactly who he was. That support was unreal to us.”
The team presented a small teddy bear in a Hamilton uniform with “Prof Simon” printed across the back, and the attendees at the Riffle dinner wrote out their best wishes.
Bob is very well respected as an advisor and faculty member and for his involvement with students and other members of the extended community.
Simon, who was the Continental golf coach for 14 seasons and whose best known work examines the world of athletics – “The Ethics of Sports: What Everyone Needs to Know” is his latest book – is part of a wider world, of course, on the Hill and otherwise.
Dave Smallen, his colleague and friend of more than 45 years, refers to him as “the next version of Sid Wertimer,” the late, legendary, all-knowing and super-involved Hamilton provost and professor of economics.
“I think, well, the community would be supportive of any member, but Bob and Joy have been involved in all aspects of the life of the College, not just attending games,” he said. “Bob is very well respected as an advisor and faculty member and for his involvement with students and other members of the extended community.”
Simon, a native of Lawrence, Long Island, is a graduate of Lafayette College with advanced degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. He and Joy, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary August 27, are the parents of two Hamilton graduates: Bruce ’91 and Marc ’94.
Simon recently began a new series of chemotherapy and radiation, and he knows he faces a difficult challenge.
“I try to stay in the present,” he said. “Like, ‘What’s for dinner?’ Sometimes I’m scared, but I just think about what we are doing today.”
And also about how the Hamilton community has responded to his crisis.
“I couldn’t do it without the support,” Simon said.