Michael Simms, the Hong Kong journalist who put it right mourned by all
Respectful tributes pour in for legendary copy editor who was a mentor to many and the scourge of tautology
Michael Simms, who retired from the South China Morning Post as chief copy editor in late 2014 after 55 years working in newspapers across three continents, has died at the age of 73.
Armed with a razor-sharp wit, mastery of English and grasp of Latin, Simms will be remembered for schooling generations of reporters and sub-editors on the importance of good language, saving many a story from the trappings of tautology and verbiage.
His trademark dry humour would be displayed regularly on Facebook – often as sardonic one-liners or via his wildly popular “tautology of the day” posts.
Many would feature his beloved dog Scrap, with whom he enjoyed a good hike.
“Despite his gruff exterior, Mike had a mischievous sense of humour that will be sorely missed by all those who knew him in both the newsroom and his favourite Wan Chai bar,” a friend and fellow journalist said.
A teenage Simms entered newspapers in his native New Zealand as a reporter and, at the age when most graduates now join the industry, he was deputy news editor of the Evening Star, a regional daily. He also worked at the New Zealand Herald.
His career took him to Britain (The Guardian, Sheffield Morning Telegraph), Australia (The Age) Singapore (The Monitor) and the then Hong Kong Standard , where he became editor, and the Post.
Simms, described as a “firebrand editor” with high expectations and “a true individual”, often gave short shrift to so-called conventional wisdom or the “standard Western view”.
Deeply competitive, he abhorred the bad use of English and those who transgressed were unlikely to do so again.
On his “Good Language”: website, Simms wrote: “Times are tough for our language, as mass media abandon time-honoured quality-control procedures and the days when no one’s work reached the public without undergoing rigorous editing fade into pre-internet history.
“Time will tell whether this trade-off between credibility and cost will prove sustainable for outlets that need to be taken seriously. I suspect not.”
Damon, his son who lives in the Philippines, said Simms “loved Hong Kong with a passion”. He was self-taught in Cantonese and was “a decent cook” of his favourite local dishes.
Post editor-in-chief Tammy Tam said: “I was very saddened to hear of Mike’s death. He was a hugely influential and dedicated member of our local news team, and did much to mentor our reporters and sub-editors.
“His knowledge of Hong Kong society, politics and government policies allowed him to speak with authority, whether it was with our most senior editors or cadets.
“We shall greatly miss his voice of reason.”
Simms fell ill in the Philippines three months ago while on one of his regular visits to see his young granddaughter, Gabriella.
He returned to Hong Kong and was admitted to hospital with a leg infection. He suffered pneumonia in mid-December and died at Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Friday night.
“I think I speak for everyone when I say that a very large part of our lives disappeared on Friday, and that his passing has left a hole in many people’s lives that will never be filled,” Damon said.
Simms leaves wife Jean, sons Damon and Anton, grandchildren Paige, Lauren and Gabriella.