For more than 50 years, Laura Lee Simon played a pivotal role in Westport life. She was a leader in a wide range of public and private local, state and national organizations, from human services to public broadcasting.
Her lifelong passion was advocating for children, and providing opportunities for them — particularly those who were underserved. One example: In the 1960s, she was a key organizer of Project Concern. The program — controversial at first, then recognized by all for its great value — brought students from Bridgeport into the Westport schools.
She lived in Westport from 1956 to 2016. Her husband of 65 years, John Simon, was a Westport civic and cultural leader until his death in 2015.
Laura Lee Simon died yesterday in White Plains, New York. She was 90 years old. Her family says she had been in ill health for a long while. Here is a bit of her inspiring life.
She was a founding member of the Connecticut Commission on Children, and served as its chair for 10 years. She was the first woman to chair Connecticut Public Broadcasting, and was vice president of the Connecticut Child Welfare Association and the Connecticut Association for Human Services.
She was a founder of the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, an adviser to the Stepping Stones Museum for Children, and chair of the Museum’s Community Partners Council.She was involved with numerous other state and national organizations, including serving as Connecticut chair of a 6-state National Crime Prevention Council initiative to develop policies that promote healthy, safe, smart caring communities for children to grow.
She was responsible for the first Harris Poll to ascertain Connecticut citizens’ view of prevention; organized the first media roundtable of its kind in Connecticut to bring media, policymakers and practitioners together to determine how best to tell the story of Connecticut’s children; and helped generate support for the creation of the executive branch’s Prevention Council.
She forged a coalition between the Commission on Children, Connecticut Public Broadcasting, the Committee on Economic Development and the National League of Cities to mount a public education campaign, “Kids for Connecticut,” to promote policies to assure children’s health, safety and learning.
She chaired the Committee on Public Expenditures for Connecticut’s Children to develop the first state children’s budget in the country as a trustee of the Southport Institute for Policy Analysis, and as state chair of the White House Conference on Families and its follow-up National Task Force.
She spent 15 years as a board member of the National Social Welfare Conference, a member of the National Advisory panel of the Child Care Action Campaign, chair for 15 years of the Stauffer Westport Fund, and a member of the Children’s Committee of the Council on Foundations.
Laura Lee Simon earned numerous awards and citations, including the June Goodman Award from the Connecticut Association for Human Services, the Connecticut Psychological Association Award for Service to Children, the Women Who Dare to Make a Difference Award from the National Council of Jewish Women, the Community Leadership Award from the Junior League, the United Nations Association Award to Outstanding Women in Connecticut, the Connecticut Secretary of State’s Public Service award, and the Stepping Up for Children Award from the Stepping Stones Museum for Children.
She was honored by Connecticut Public Broadcasting at its Founders Celebration, by the United Way for a lifetime of excellence in community engagement work, and by 2 gubernatorial proclamations of “Laura Lee Simon Day” in 2001 and 2003.
Laura Lee Simon was born in Syracuse, New York in 1929. Her family moved in 1939 to New York City, where Laura Lee attended Julia Richman High School. She held a B.A. in psychology and political science from Syracuse University, and an M.A. in guidance from Teachers College, Columbia University.
She is survived by her daughter Terri Simon of Scarsdale, New York; her sons Andrew Simon of Manhattan and James Simon of Connecticut; 7 grandchildren; a great-granddaughter, and her brother, Michael Reeder, of Boynton Beach, Florida.
Contributions in her memory may be made to Stepping Stones Museum in Norwalk.