Omaha Mayor Dies, Hailed As Hero, Common Man Who Loved His City
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ Mayor Bernie Simon, who died Thursday after battling cancer for a year, was eulogized by friends and colleagues as a common man and a hero who enjoyed a love affair with his city.
Simon, 60, was taken to Methodist Hospital from his home at 4:50 a.m. after his wife, Betty, realized he wasn’t breathing. City officials said Simon was dead on arrival.
An autopsy was scheduled to determine the cause of death.
Council member Walt Calinger said the mayor ″learned not to give up and fought hard until the end. At a time when we worry about not having heroes and not having role models, Bernie was a hero.″
Simon, who replaced Mayor Mike Boyle when Boyle was recalled last year, was stricken with cancer two months after taking office. He was hospitalized off and on for treatment but kept up a full schedule at City Hall until last month.
When he was released from a hospital stay earlier this month, his doctor denied he was dying and said he expected the mayor to return to work within two weeks.
Fellow politicians described Simon on Thursday as someone who gave others the courage to live.
″If you were to ask me about Bernie, only two words would come to mind - courage and leadership,″ said Acting Mayor Fred Conley, who took over for Simon temporarily last month.
As recently as 10 days ago, Conley said, Simon showed him pictures of his grandchildren and said he was planning a party to celebrate his return to office.
″He had been very positive and upbeat about his cancer. He thought he had a good chance of beating it,″ Conley said.
Gov. Kay Orr called him ″a man of peace and concord. He loved being mayor. He loved serving the people, and in public service he gave the very essence of his nature, a spirit of unity which brought the people of Omaha together.″
″He was really just a common guy that sincerely wanted, not for himself, but for the city of Omaha to be successful during his term,″ council member Steve Tomasak said.
Simon, a Democrat, was first elected to the City Council in 1981. He was named mayor Feb. 3, 1987, after Boyle was recalled, to serve the remaining 2 1/2 years of Boyle’s term.
Simon had said becoming mayor was a lifelong dream. But after taking office, he was diagnosed as having an inoperable tumor in his lung. That tumor was destroyed during treatment, but two more tumors were later found in his brain.
″Don’t look so gloomy,″ he told reporters at the time. ″I’ve whipped cancer before and I’m going to whip this one.″
Radiation treatments and chemotherapy reduced the tumors, but weakened by treatment, Simon was stricken with shingles on his eyes and became mentally disoriented.
Conley said at a City Hall news conference that he would continue as acting mayor until the council meets after Simon’s funeral to choose a new mayor.
A native of Omaha, Simon graduated from Creighton Preparatory High School in 1945 and then served briefly in the U.S. Navy before the end of World War II.
He worked as a telephone lineman, later moving up to marketing manager before retiring from the telephone company in 1981.
″I’m not ready to sit down in a rocking chair,″ Simon said when he took over as mayor. ″It’s a zest for life.″
Survivors include his wife, three sons, a daughter, and six grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements were pending.