Jack Simms: The tale of a true Auburn man
The title of "True Auburn Man" is an honor reserved for only a few. Jack Simms might be the epitome of it: humble, fair, friendly, tough, knowledgeable, generous, compassionate, and loyal. Simms—a military veteran, journalist, family man, and former professor—will turn 90 years old in November. Here's a glimpse into the past 90 years of this legendary Auburn Man.
Jack Simms: The Journalist
The Simms family moved to Auburn from Corvallis, Oregon, when Simms was 11. He graduated from Lee County High School and in 1949 received a bachelor's degree in English and journalism from what was then Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API), which later became Auburn University. Simms, who later became editor, met his wife, Jo, while working at The Auburn Plainsman. After graduation, they moved to Baton Rouge where he received a master's degree in journalism from LSU. In 1951, he began a lengthy career with The Associated Press as a reporter and editor in Atlanta. He went on to serve as bureau chief for Kentucky and New England and as deputy general sports editor in New York.
At the age of 47, Simms received a call to consider a position at Auburn University in the newly established Department of Journalism.
"We loved Auburn. I went to school there, met my wife there, we got married there," Simms recalled. "It was coming back home. It was an opportunity that I just never thought I'd get."
So he retired from the AP, moved his family to Auburn, and served as department chair for the next 18 years.
"I took an early retirement from AP, which was not a very good one, but we really wanted to come back south," Simms explained. "And I stayed on good terms with AP because my plan was to feed them good journalism graduates."
It was under his tenure that the journalism program became nationally accredited. Enrollment soared and demand for Auburn graduates frequently exceeded the number available. Simms steered countless promising young journalists toward success. Many successful journalists and writers credit Simms with being a guiding force not only in their professional lives but their personal lives as well. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Cynthia Tucker '76 (pictured with Simms, above), best-selling author Rheta Grimsley Johnson '77, and Mark Winne '79, refer to Simms like he's family. In fact, Winne named his eldest son Jack, after Simms. Simms said that he reciprocates the sentiments of love and respect from his students.
"I would include every Plainsman editor, too," Simms said of some of his most memorable students.
Simms retired from the position as chair in 1992 and has stayed in touch with many of his former students. When I asked him whether he was happy about his decision to leave AP and come to Auburn, he recalled an encounter with Travis Tidwell as part of his answer.
"Shortly after we came back, I saw Travis Tidwell, one of the Auburn football greats, who was in school with me, and he said, 'Boy are you lucky – you’re back at Auburn! Everyone wants to go back to Auburn!' and he was the first of many people to say to me, 'I'd give anything to be back at Auburn.'"
"It's been too good. I don't deserve any of it."
Jack Simms: The Military Veteran
Prior to beginning his career as a journalist, Simms served in World War II. At the time, he needed his parents’ consent to serve in the Marine Corp. So the 17-year old Simms went to his mother, and she told him that she would sign the paper only if he promised to go to college for one quarter. Simms promised, and was intent on keeping his word. But first, he had to survive the war.
Simms served as a private in a machine gun squad with an infantry company during the Battle of Iwo Jima during February and March of 1945. He credits his survival to being young and not fully comprehending what was at stake.
“That battle was the signal battle for Marine history. It was horrible, and we lost a lot of people,” Simms recalled. “I was 18 years and 3 months old when we went into Iwo Jima. I think part of it was not having enough responsibility to really be as frightened as a lot of guys were.”
His division received a Presidential Unit Citation. Later Simms served with Marine occupational forces on Guam and in Japan. Since then, the Marines have been an important part of his life. Simms co-founded the Marine Corp League in Auburn in 2001 with his friend and co-worker, the late Bill Weidner, a chair of the Department of Communication Disorders.
“He would needle me about starting a detachment here and we did. Weidner was the first commandant and I was the third. And the group is still going strong.”
Simms was named the 2010 Distinguished Veteran by the City of Auburn and was on the Alabama honor flight to Washington, D.C., that year to commemorate the memorial of Iwo Jima.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” Simms said.
Jack Simms: The Tailgate Guy
“We were party people,” Simms said.
Simms and a group of 20 friends had a system for reserving one of their favorite spots to tailgate.
“We would get together at north stadium, under the stadium. Best place for shade,” Simms said. “We’d go down and take a couple cars and park them on Friday evening after 4:30. The next day, we’d go and put out some chairs and move the cars.”
Simms has been an avid supporter of the Tigers for a long time.
“I wasn’t trying to keep a record or anything, but I don’t think I missed an Auburn football game until about five years ago [when his wife’s health became an issue]. And prior to that, we never left before the end of a game.”
When asked what someone should expect if they wandered up to their tailgate, Simms said, “Well, you could expect to hear someone say, ‘Good to see you! C’mon on in and try some of this…or have a drink,’ as the case may be.”
He has season tickets again this year.
Jack Simms: The Public Servant
Over the years, Simms has also found time to give back to his community. He served on the Auburn Preservation Commission and the Auburn Cemetery Trust. He was inducted into the CLA Academy of Outstanding Teachers and was the first recipient of the Auburn Journalism Alumni Career Award. He is a member of the Samford Society and a lifetime member of the Auburn Alumni Association.
But one of his greatest gifts to the Auburn family is his book Auburn: A Pictorial History of the Loveliest Village. Co-authored by Mickey Logue, another highly regarded journalist who graduated from and taught at Auburn, the book features more than 800 photos illustrating historical events in Auburn’s past. Now in its third edition, the book contains nine chapters with 100 pages of color photos including the Auburn Iron Bowl victory of 2013.
“We consider this book our gift and legacy to Auburn and the people at Auburn,” Simms said.
Jack Simms is easily set apart by his acts of valor, his reputation as a journalist and professor, and his love for Auburn. And those are just a few of the many characteristics that qualify him as a true Auburn Man. So if you see Simms at Jordan-Hare stadium this season, be sure to greet him with a hearty, "War Eagle!"
Written by Vicky Santos, Office of External Affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Auburn University.
This article will appear in our annual magazine Perspectives, and contains a few more photos of Jack Simms throughout the years. Look for the magazine to arrive in mailboxes in mid-November.
Last Updated: May 17, 2017