March 04, 2010

Leader in community journalism in New York dies

Below is the obituary of Vicki Simons, who was instrumental in the creation of the Center for Community Journalism at SUNY Oswego. I worked with her at the center for three years. An indicator of the kind of newswoman she was is that she wrote her own obituary.

Victoria A. Simons
Newspaper Editor/Owner

Victoria Alda Simons died of lung cancer on March 1 at her home in Ghent surrounded by family.

For 15 years she was editor of the twice-weekly Independent Newspaper, published out of Hillsdale and serving as official newspaper-of-record for virtually every government entity in Columbia and southern Rensselaer counties.

Following sale of the paper in 2001, she became a participating founder and first executive director of Columbia County Bounty, a non-profit that connects local farmers to local chefs and consumers to promote local agriculture. She played an integral role in expanding the Bounty model to other Hudson Valley counties, and last year coordinated Bounty’s signature “Taste of….” event.

In 1996 she was elected as the first woman to serve on the board of the Columbia County Agricultural Society, which puts on the annual Columbia County Fair. Among other responsibilities, she handled marketing, corporate sponsorships, and efforts to expand use of the fairgrounds for other events. She held the title of vice-president until she was named a board member emerita in 2009.

In 2005 she volunteered with Unite for Sight, providing simple eye care to Burmese refugees in Northern Thailand. Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, she spent a month as shelter director with the American Red Cross in Louisiana.

During her career as editor of The Independent, which she co-owned with her husband Tony Jones, the paper compiled an impressive record of growth, including acquiring an arts and entertainment publication, The Paper, and two antiquing guides. The newspaper was honored as the inaugural recipient of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce’s Crystal Apple Award.

During her newspaper career, Vicki served as President of the New York Press Association during 1996-97, and also helped create the Center for Community Journalism at SUNY Oswego. In 1998 she received the National Newspaper Association’s Emma C. McKinney Award for outstanding leadership and service in the field of community journalism.

Outside her work, she was involved in a wide array of community service activities, including serving with Tony for 6 years as Columbia County Coordinators of the Fresh Air Fund. Lamark Murray spent seven summers with them and continues in touch 22 years later.

Additionally, she was a founder and first coordinator of Roe Jan Hospice. She served several years on the boards of United Way of Columbia & Greene Counties and Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood. She was a volunteer with International Friendship Exchange, a coach for the Ghent Junior Girls Softball League, and a long-time participant in the Leadership Columbia County media trainings.

A graduate of the Skip Barber Driving School, she was an avid golfer who served on the Board of the Columbia Golf & Country Club.

A journalist to the end, she catalogued her battle with lung cancer at

Born August 9, 1944 in St Louis, MO, she was 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.

She worked as a counselor in one of the country’s first licensed abortion clinics, Eastern Women’s Center in Manhattan, where she eventually became vice-president for operations, including affiliate clinics in Boston and Kansas City. She earned an M.P.A. in Health Care Administration from New York University, and was active in the founding of the National Abortion Federation.

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

In Copake she worked as director of distribution for independent New York video producer Martha Stuart. She and her husband later founded MessageDesk in Hillsdale before purchasing the Roe Jan Independent newspaper in 1986.

In addition to her mother, Vicki is survived by her husband Tony Jones of Ghent; two daughters, Eleanor Jones Rossi (Robert) of Brooklyn, and Mara Simons-Jones of Austin, TX; sons Christopher K. Jones (Gwenda Marchione) of Ghent; Jayson H. Simons-Jones of Crested Butte, CO; D. Hamilton Simons-Jones (Annette) of New Orleans, LA; two grandsons, Casey and Christopher Jones of Ghent; two granddaughters, Charlotte and Arabelle Rossi of Brooklyn; brother F. Adam Simons of Los Angeles; and the family golden retriever Maxwell, a loyal companion during her illness.

A celebration of her life will be held at the Columbia County Fairhouse in Chatham at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 14. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Central Asia Institute, P.O. Box 7209, Bozeman, MT 59771 (; or the Community Hospice of Columbia & Greene Counties, 47 Liberty Street, Catskill, NY 12414.


Jack Rosenberry said...

surprising news, John. (And sad.) But thanks for passing it along. I recall meeting her only a couple of times, when we did the program at Fisher a few years ago, but we worked pretty closely on that. Sorry to hear the news.

Bernard L. Stein said...

Vicki showed what talent and caring could do. She and Tony took a pedestrian publication and made it the cornerstone of the community, reflecting the changes in Columbia County while uniting new and old. The Independent was a great newspaper because Vicki Simons was a great editor.