Victoria Simons, former newspaper editor, dies


Co-owned The Independent and volunteered for many causes

GHENT–Victoria A. Simons, the former editor and co-owner of The Independent newspaper, died Monday, March 1, at her home here. She was 65.

The cause was lung cancer, and, a journalist until the very end of her life, she had dispassionately chronicled her treatment, condition and personal observations in a regularly updated online blog, . The last entry was posted a little over a week before her death.

Ms. Simons was also a major force in building regional awareness of the annual Columbia County Fair. In 1996 she became the first woman elected to serve on the board of the Columbia County Agricultural Society, the organization that puts on the fair.

More recently she was a founder and the executive director of the non-profit Columbia County Bounty, which promoted local agriculture. And she was engaged in a long list of community organizations and agencies. A full obituary appears on Page 21.

In 1986 Ms. Simons and her husband, Tony Jones, were running a small message service in Hillsdale when Elinor Mettler approached them about their interest in buying the local weekly newspaper, The Roe Jan Independent. Mrs. Mettler said this week that she was gratified that the couple not only agreed to buy the paper but also kept it true to her original vision as a source of community news.

But the paper did change, with Ms. Simons as editor and Mr. Jones as publisher. Within a few years, it had expanded its coverage to encompass all the towns in Columbia County and later began a separate edition aimed at readers in southern Rensselaer County. It also expanded to publishing twice a week.

In the process, Ms. Simons also became a statewide presence in the community newspaper business, serving as president of the New York Press Association and helping to create the Center for Community Journalism at SUNY Oswego.

She was also a committed feminist, and Michelle Rae, executive director of the New York Press Association recalled this week that when Ms. Simons received an the National Newspaper Association’s Emma C. McKinney Award for outstanding leadership and service in the field of community journalism, instead of  simply accepting the honor and returning to her seat, she delivered a rousing speech challenging the mostly white, male newsroom leaders to put more women and minorities in positions of authority.

During her tenure as editor, the paper won a number of journalism awards.

Ms. Simons and Mr. Jones sold The Independent to the Journal Register Co. in 2001, but if anything, her level of involvement in the community and in volunteering increased. In addition to the county fair and Columbia County Bounty, in 2005 she volunteered with Unite for Sight, providing eye care to Burmese refugees in Northern Thailand, and after Hurricane Katrina, she spent a month in Louisiana with the American Red Cross as shelter director.

Victoria Alda Simons was born August 9, 1944 in St Louis, Mo., the daughter of the late Henry N. and Harriette A. Simons, of Manhattan, who survives. She graduated from Mary A. Burnham School before attending Cornell University and earning a B.A. in English Literature from Queens College and an M.P.A. in Health Care Administration from New York University.

She worked as a counselor in one of the country’s first licensed abortion clinics in Manhattanand later became vice-president for operations for that clinic and affiliate clinics in Boston and Kansas City. She was also active in the founding of the National Abortion Federation.

She met her husband in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 1971. They moved to Columbia County from Manhattan in 1977, settling first in Copake and moving to Ghent in 1992.

Her family has planned a celebration of her life at the Columbia County Fairhouse in Chatham at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 14. 

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