Detroit ad man, scholar, historian, author, gifted and humorous speaker, community activist, philanthropist and champion fundraiser self-described as the “Town Schnorrer.” This was the inimitable, indomitable, indispensable Leonard Norman Rashall Simons (1904-1995).
In 1995, the Jewish Community Archives was named to honor Leonard N. Simons’ commitment to preserving Jewish Detroit’s historic legacy. Co-founder of Simons Michelson Zieve Advertising, Leonard Simons combined his career in advertising with an equally rich public life, serving as an officer, director, trustee, chair or active member of scores of other businesses and community institutions.
A man of many talents and interests
A man of faith, Leonard’s interests were ecumenical. And ubiquitous. It has been said that there are few (if any) charitable causes, social service agencies, cultural and educational organizations in Detroit that do not include the name Leonard N. Simons in their records as a benefactor. Though he was not himself a man of vast wealth, Leonard caused millions of dollars to be contributed to a myriad of worthy causes. Fifteen buildings stand on the Wayne State University campus today due to his personal influence and belief in the importance of a city university.
In the words of Dr. Jacob Marcus, Director of American Jewish Archives at Hebrew Union College, “What would Detroit, American Jewry, have done without Leonard?” The Greek word for philanthropy means ‘love of fellowman’ and in the literal sense Leonard was a man who defined the word.
A lover of mankind, Simons was also a lover of books. “Books,” he observed “are the memory of mankind.” His own book, Simons Says: Faith, Fun and Foibles, a collection of reminiscences and anecdotes about people and life in general, was published by the Wayne State University Press. The Simons Room in the Purdy Library houses a collection, donated by Simons, of more than 2,000 books and maps on Detroit and Michigan history. His collection of old Judaic books now sits in the library of Temple Beth El.
A man of his word, Leonard wrote a “creed” upon his 75th birthday. Upon his 91st birthday, he remarked that nothing had happened to inspire him to change a word.
Words to Live by, as Simons Says:
I HAVE always believed
THAT there is much more to life than “begin, beget and be gone.”
THAT the most important words in the dictionary are Love, Respect and Generosity.
THAT if I do well in business, I should never forget to share because a shroud has no pockets.
THAT essential to happiness is something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.
THAT life’s great satisfaction comes from realizing your own capabilities as fully as possible – for the benefit of others.
THAT there is a difference between putting your nose into other people’s business and putting your heart into other people’s problems.
THAT schools of higher learning should be assisted because the salvation of the work lies in the education of young men and women.
AND, if I had a chance to live my life over again, I would try to do the very same things, because I believe in them.