Bob Simon loved the adventure , the challenge, the mystery that had to be revealed. He dreaded being hemmed in behind a desk. He hungered for the story, the true story of people we never heard of, people we will never meet. He plunged into danger, war, reported with bullets whizzing by. He confronted tyrants and spoke truth to their face. He introduced us to all kinds of people around the globe.
He loved the opera and symphony, but he reached into every jungle - flew, sailed, trekked, climbed, relished every bit of life. He was the consummate reporter.
How tragic, how ironic, that after risking his life in war, in water, on ice, in desert, in proximity to wild animals, in every type of danger, his precious life was snuffed out in a traffic accident in New York. Our civilization proved to be the most dangerous place of all. There are many tears.
Good evening. I'm Steve Kroft, welcome to 60 Minutes Presents.
Tonight, we remember and celebrate the life and extraordinary career of our friend and colleague Bob Simon. He spent 47 years covering the world for CBS News, and 60 Minutes and survived dozens of wars and other calamities. He died 11 days ago in a New York City traffic accident not far from this studio. The irony would not have been lost on Bob. Irony was one of his favorite journalistic devices. He was a brilliant combination of sophistication and street smarts...who liked to tell people he was just a Jewish kid from the Bronx. He didn't tell you that he was also Phi Beta Kappa, and had been a Fulbright scholar, or that he came to become television's quintessential foreign correspondent.
And now, some of Bob's favorite 60 Minutes stories.
THE SHAME OF SREBRENICALesley Stahl: We continue tonight with three of Bob Simon's most memorable stories. It wasn't an easy choice to pick only three, given the hundreds of stories he did, and the range of subjects he took on.
But we begin with Bob's distinguished work as a war correspondent. He combined bravery, an eye for the telling detail and, at times, a righteous indignation at war's folly and its consequences.
In 1999, as the fighting in the former Yugoslavia entered a new phase in Kosovo, Bob looked at what happened in Srebrenica: the slaughter by Serb troops of more than 8,000 Muslim civilians in that Bosnian town. It was the Serbs who did the killing, but the shame of Srebrenica also fell on a group of soldiers from another country: the Dutch, sent to the town as U.N. peacekeepers; the Dutch, who had such high ideals when they volunteered for the most dangerous job in Bosnia, only to see those ideals shattered by what they saw, what they did, and what they didn't do.
Here's how Bob reported that story:
WIM DE VOSScott Pelley: Bob Simon was always ready for an adventure -- a chance to travel somewhere he'd never seen and tell us all about it. He had a gift for finding the surprising, even the magical, in the most unexpected places.
In the wake of the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed some 280,000 from Indonesia to India, Bob found a story of survival.
He encountered members of a remarkable and ancient culture who lived precisely where the tsunami hit hardest but who suffered no casualties at all. They are the Sea Gypsies of the Andaman Sea, or, as they call themselves, the Moken. They've lived for hundreds of years on the islands off the coast of Thailand and Burma. They are, of all the peoples of the world, among the least touched by modern civilization. And, as Bob reported, they miraculously survived the tsunami because they knew it was coming.
THE RECYCLERSBill Whitaker: Bob Simon's great passion -- apart from his family and good writing -- was music. He delighted particularly in opera, but a symphony in Kinshasa, a young conductor in Caracas or a rap star from Brooklyn were all worthy of Bob's attention, and in his judgment, ours.
In 2013, he led us to sweet sounds rising above foul odors -- to a town built on a garbage dump on the outskirts of Asunción, the capital of the tiny, impoverished South American country of Paraguay. It's called Cateura and Bob went there not because of the poverty or the filth, but because of the incredible imagination and ingenuity of the people who live there. This story is testament to Bob's belief that, ultimately, music will triumph everywhere and anywhere.
Lesley Stahl: It wasn't long after word of Bob Simon's death that we began to get poignant letters from people who had been in some of Bob's favorite stories.
We heard from all kinds, Israeli leaders, art forgers, nuns, snowboarders, baseball stars -- even the Egyptian Jon Stewart.
This from the communications director of FC Barcelona, the Spanish club best known for its soccer team, and the great Leo Messi.
"As you know, in late 2012, the Club opened its doors for Mr. Simon and his team to produce a report for 60 Minutes. That very report... will eternally live on as a true journalistic jewel, one of the most important and outstanding news pieces to have ever been dedicated to FC Barcelona."
And then there was this from the conductor of the story Bob did about the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra...
"His visit to Kinshasa remains unforgettable for us because the story, "Joy in the Congo," shown in the United States, opened many doors for us outside of Africa: A trip to Los Angeles in 2013 and a tour to the United Kingdom in September 2014. I also became an honorary member of the Royal Philharmonic Society. Bob brought us Joy and we will never forget him."
And finally this -- a note with a subject line "on the loss of our friend," from Father Maximos about Bob's story on Mount Athos -- one of the holiest places in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
"Early this morning, I received the terrible news of Bob's death. I'm shocked and deeply saddened. I have sent word to the Holy Mountain, where I am sure prayers are being offered for him and his family."
As they are here.
I'm Lesley Stahl. We'll be back next week with a new edition of 60 minutes. Good night.
February 22, 2015 CBS