Howard Simons, NF ‘59, bird watcher and advocate for Native American journalists

Howard Simons, NF ‘59, bird watcher and advocate for Native American journalists

Jonathan Seitz, Nieman Reports researcher/reporter, chronicles the fortunes of the “Santa Clara Hawk”

To a first-time visitor, the statue of a hawk in front of the Nieman Foundation may seem out of place. It is carved from smooth, gray-black stone with a gaze fixed on the pathway into Lippmann House. Perched atop a 2-foot-tall rock, it bears a simple plaque:

“Santa Clara Hawk”
Doug Hyde
Nez Percé

Given in Memory of Howard Simons
Curator 1984–1989

Gift of Nieman Class of 1989

In the spring semester of 1989, Nieman curator Howard Simons, NF ’59, announced that he had terminal pancreatic cancer. He elected to not take any treatment but insisted on fulfilling his duties as curator, including hosting the Foundation’s 50th anniversary celebration. After the May festivities, he and his wife, Tod, traveled to Jacksonville Beach, Florida, where he died on June 13, aged 60.

“Santa Clara Hawk” by Doug Hyde. Lisa Abitbol

Simons had long been known as a wise counsel to fellow journalists. In notoriously workaholic Washington, the science writer turned Washington Post managing editor was known to tease colleagues for focusing too single-mindedly on work, though he was relentless in pushing the paper to cover Watergate. His own hobbies ranged from traveling and photography to collecting Indian arrowheads and bird watching.

During his tenure as curator, Simons focused on helping minority journalists, especially Native Americans. He hosted an annual dinner for Native American leaders and mentored aspiring reporters. “Our beloved curator was a bird watcher, and he was also an advocate for Native American journalists,” says Cecilia Alvear, NF ’89, a member of his final class. “When we found out he was dying, we thought it would be appropriate to make a gift to the Foundation that would reflect those two interests that were close to his heart.”

The class found a Native American artist, Doug Hyde of the Nez Percé, and talked to him about creating a memorial. They settled on a sculpture called the “Santa Clara Hawk.” Hyde says the statue was modeled on the red-tailed hawks he often saw in the cliffs near Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Hawks are highly respected in Native American culture. Their feathers are valued as symbols of achievement and authority.

“If only the hawk sculpture really had been ‘the stuff that dreams are made of’”
— Cecilia Alvear,
NF ‘89

Christopher Lynch, a local architect and friend of Alvear’s, installed the Santa Clara Hawk in the back garden at Lippmann House in 1989. During construction of the Knight Seminar Room in 2003, it had to be moved to the front yard. Two years later, during a class photo shoot, staff realized it was missing. Cambridge police investigated the disappearance without success. The Foundation commissioned Hyde to create a replacement. The new hawk has stood sentry in its new location since 2007.

“When we opened the package, Howard looked at it and said, ‘Oh! The Maltese Falcon,’” Alvear wrote of the original gift in a piece for the Foundation’s 2007 Annual Report. “If only it really had been ‘the stuff that dreams are made of’—recalling the famous line from that Humphrey Bogart film—our Nieman year would not have ended on such a sad note.”

2011: Birdbath
When curator Bob Giles, NF ’66, retired, the 2011 Fellows—his final Nieman class— presented him with a birdbath, now in the front yard at Lippmann House. Giles placed in it 11 Petoskey stones—one to honor each year of his service. A Petoskey stone is a fossilized coral found only in northern Michigan, where Giles has a home.

Photo by Lisa Abitbol

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