Good Night, Pat Simms

Even when you know something is coming, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with:

The details are fuzzy after so many years, but as Cliff Behnke remembers, Wisconsin State Journal reporter Patricia Simms was sent one day to cover a supposedly “secret” meeting at the Capitol.

“She strode into the meeting, told them the whole thing was open to the public and sent her notebook around the room with instructions for all the participants to write down their names and phone numbers in case she wanted to contact them later for the story.”

“They complied,” said Behnke, Simms’ former colleague and boss. “Talk about kicking ass and taking names.”

Mention Simms’ name to just about any journalist or power broker active in Madison over the last half-century, and they’re likely to have a story about the veteran reporter who succumbed to cancer Monday at the age of 75 after 42 years covering nearly every beat in local and state government.

The doctors gave her six months, which ended up being about six weeks. She died peacefully, I’m told, with her children at her side. The humane side of me is grateful for her and her family. The selfish side of me wished for a miracle.

I tried to explain before what someone like Pat meant to me, to others in the field and to journalism in general. I don’t think I have it in me to try again.

What I will say is that if you were a young reporter, you could have wished for no better mentor than Pat.

If you were a feminist, there was no better example to follow than Pat’s.

If you were weasel, you had no greater fear than a call from Pat.

And if you were her friend, you could never find one better.

Of all the things people have mentioned about her and all of my personal remembrances, probably the best memory of Pat is going to be my last one. When I sent her daughter that fumbling attempt to tell her what her mother meant to me, Sara read it to Pat.

The response was classic Pat: “She said it was so nice but ‘I’m not dead yet.’ ”

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