Bruce Thornton Simon

An angler finds enjoyment in the preparation, the ritual, the scenery, friendships, and collecting great stories along the way. Catching fish is secondary to the journey itself.

Landing a large, beautiful trout requires patience and skill, but it is just as rewarding to enjoy the moment, make a memory, then release the fish so someone else can experience the same enjoyment.

Catch and release.

Bruce Simon

Bruce Simon in his home.

Bruce Thornton Simon, husband, father, businessman, lawmaker, public servant, Montanan through-and-through, avid angler and friend to many, was born in Billings, Montana, on January 20, 1942. His life, more than anything else, was about giving back – to his friends, to his family, to his community.

His proud parents Clark E. and Muriel (Thornton) Simon expected a girl to go along with his older brother, Ronald. They sent a telegram that relayed the surprise to Bruce’s grandparents that simply read, “We named Helen ‘Bruce.’” His parents taught him the value of life.

Bruce was raised in Billings, attending Broadwater Elementary, Lincoln Middle School and Senior High School, where he was involved in numerous activities and made many life-long friends.

He attended Montana State University in Bozeman, earning two Bachelor degrees (Commerce and Construction Technology) and a Master’s degree in Applied Science.

In 1961, Bruce and then-wife Colleen Cahill welcomed their son, Tod Thornton Simon. Three years later, in 1964, their daughter Rebecca Jill Simon was born.

Bruce went on to help run the family business, Coles Department Store, with his brother, Ron, after their father retired. Though “the Store” closed in 1985, the Simon family continues to own the Fratt Building where it was located, and the building was a major part of Bruce’s life. He knew every nook and cranny, system and sound of the place.

Typical of Bruce’s style, he remained in touch with many former employees nearly 30 years after the business closed. He took pride in their later accomplishments and that many considered him a friend.

Bruce gave back to the state he loved. He served aas President of the Montana Retail Association for two-and-a-half years. When he was appointed to the Governor’s Council on Management is when he first felt a calling to be involved in public service. His experience on the Council led him to decide to run for public office. He also served on the Private Industry Council. He first ran for and won election to the Montana House of Representatives in 1984.

During his seven sessions in the Legislature, Bruce became one of the most respected Representatives, forming consensus and earning a reputation as a fair, thorough and well-prepared Lawmaker and an effective Chairmen and member of the various committees on which he served, including Business and Labor, and the Legislative Audit Committee.

Bruce was awarded State Official of the Year from the National Association Of Home Buillders in 1998. He was named Montana Legislator of the Year by numerous groups, including the Montana Optometric Association and the Montana Building Industry Association. He is also the only non-attorney to argue a case before the Montana Supreme Court.

He met the love of his life, Sharon (Langstraat) Simon while on a ski vacation in Park City, Utah. He was graceful and smooth on a pair of skis, his fluid turns being recognizable from anywhere on the mountain. After meeting on the mountain, the two had a whirlwind long-distance romance before their wedding in 1972.

Sharon and Bruce enjoyed 42 years of marriage together. Their son, David Dean Simon, was born in 1974.

While raising his children, Bruce gave his time as a volunteer baseball and hockey coach, and drove hundreds of miles to watch his kids’ teams. He was extremely proud of Tod and his Little League team winning the Montana State Championship and competing in San Bernadino, California in the Regional Tournament as well as Dave’s part of the 1992 American Legion State Champion Billings Royals.

Bruce was passionate about the outdoors and spent as much time as he could either on the family land in Red Lodge or on the various rivers and streams around the region. He was known to drive to Red Lodge after dinner just to spend the night next to the rushing water of Rock Creek, get up the next day and do upkeep chores around the land.

Bruce Simon fly casting.

Bruce casting on Rock Creek in Red Lodge, Montana.

Bruce treasured his time on the river with his friends, especially Scott Seacat, more than anything. Together, the two re-traced the Missouri River portion of Lewis & Clark’s journey whilst listening to the “Undaunted Courage” audiobook.

But Bruce’s favorite trip, his favorite place in the world, was the Montana’s blue-ribbon trout fishery, the Smith River. Every year, he looked forward to his opportunity to get away from it all with his closest friends, whether the fishing was good or bad, whether there was rain, snow or sun (often in the same day) the trip was always a highlight of Bruce’s year.

Bruce was a resilient and courageous man. He suffered a heart attack in October 2007 that required open heart surgery, a pacemaker and a defibrillator. After, he struggled with congestive heart failure symptoms to the point he was sent to Stanford Medical to be evaluated for a spot on the heart transplant list.

The medical team at Stanford instead put Bruce on a severely restrictive low sodium diet, and he immediately made the changes to his lifestyle required to improve his health. He never ended up with a transplant but instead worked his way back to nearly 100% through diet, exercise and a contagiously positive attitude.

The staff at Stanford found Bruce so inspirational that they used his story as the basis for a video to encourage other patients in similar situations to follow the same path. He was the success story. Bruce was told by Dr. Michael Fowler that he was one of the most courageous, inspirational and respected patients and many of the staff grew to know him during his biannual trips to Palo Alto.

He formed friendships with his medical team at both the Billings Clinic and Stanford, including Dr. Barbara Dudczak, Dr. Fowler, Dr. Dipanjan Banerjee and members of their staffs.

Bruce showed the same courage when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the fall of 2013. He was stalwart during his multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, through his esophagectomy and the recovery after.

He fought valiantly, but unfortunately this was a battle that could not be won, as the cancer metastasized into his brain and further into his spinal cord. He continued to be an inspiration – the way he handled himself as his body shut down was nothing short of heroic.

In the final weeks of his life, Bruce continued to give back. He offered many of his most cherished possessions as gifts to those he loved, including his fly rod and reel collection. He wanted others to enjoy what he had already had his chance to enjoy.

He also donated many rods, reels and flies to Project Healing Waters, a charity he felt a strong connection to after participating in a trip and seeing the effect a fishing trip could have on a wounded veteran.

Catch and release.

We choose not look at Bruce as “the one that got away” but rather as an inspirational and beautiful catch that we eventually had to release. He leaves us, but not without rewarding us with lifetimes of memories and stories through which he will continue to be a part of our lives.

In the words of his best friend, Scott Seacat, “He will always be in my life. Every river float, every long wooly bugger cast, every wild trout brought to hand and then released, he will be with me forever.”

Bruce Thornton Simon is survived by his wife, Sharon (and their dog Lacey), sons Tod (and his wife Catherine and dogs Sam and Lissy) and Dave (and his wife Amy and dog Kenai), daughter Becky (King), brother Ron (and his wife Myrna), cousin Tom Frisby (and his wife Kathy), nephews Scott and Steve, niece Suzanne (McMurtrey), niece Lisa Garuts (husband Dainis), grandson Casey Clinton, granddaughters Amanda and Morgan King, and great-granddaughter Audrina. He is also survived by many friends, colleagues and acquaintances he touched during his lifetime.

Bruce said it best himself, “I’ve had a good life.” Some days he caught more fish than others, but he always enjoyed the journey.

Catch and release.

We wish we could hold on to him longer, but we will cherish the memories and he will always be with us.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Project Healing Waters Montana or Rocky Mountain Hospice. Thank you.

  49 comments for “Bruce Thornton Simon

  1. October 16, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Please feel free to share your memories of dad in the comments.

  2. Katie Link
    October 16, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    The obituary I just read about Bruce was beautifully written it should receive an award. I knew Bruce from the store and just being around Billings and Red Lodge. He will be missed. KL

    • dds
      October 18, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      Thank you for writing, Katie. And for the compliment on my writing. It was difficult to write but when you know and love your subject material, the words come more easily. I wanted to express my love, admiration and pride in dad and very truly, it could have been much longer! I may have to write some stories to supplement as part of my grieving process.

  3. Mary D Johnson
    October 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Bruce was my gym buddy………….will miss him terribly!!!

    • dds
      October 18, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      Mary – he loved his gym buddies! Think of him when you are on the treadmill. 🙂

  4. October 17, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    I miss your smiling face and your silly jokes. I miss our dinners at yours and Sharon’s house or lunches at Bogart’s in Red Lodge. I was lucky to not only call you my Father-in-law but my friend. I could always count on you to help with our basement flooding or taking about a toilet to get out my makeup brush cleaner. I miss you everyday, but feel honored that I got to spend so much time with you this last month. I started walking today per your request. It was brisk and nice to chitchat with Dave and Sharon as the dogs lagged behind or ran ahead to greet new friends. I miss you. I will always miss you. Thank you for loving me like a daughter and respecting my opinions even when they didn’t agree with yours❤️. You took a little piece of my heart with you this week and I know that I will never get it back. love you with all my heart! Amy

  5. Norma (Frank) Petterson
    October 18, 2014 at 1:05 am

    I didn’t know Bruce personally, but whenever I read about him, or saw his picture I had to remember when he went door to door in Billings and my mother would always say, “That nice Bruce Simon came by. He sure is a nice young man” She always enjoyed her short conversations with him. God bless his soul.

    • dds
      October 18, 2014 at 12:42 pm

      I think knocking on doors and chatting it up with constituents was dad’s favorite part about running for office. He simply liked people. Thank you for writing.

  6. John and Shirley Collins
    October 18, 2014 at 8:34 am

    We first met Bruce when he was coaching little league for David,s team. Then we were in his legislative district. Bruce would bike or walk our neighborhood. He and John would talk about legislative issues and then sports, hunting and fishing. Bruce always remembered our names.

    • dds
      October 18, 2014 at 12:48 pm

      Dad definitely didn’t pass the talent for remembering names to me. But he had it in spades. (As did his father.) if you got him started on legislative issues or fishing, you likely had some long chats! Thank you for writing.

  7. Ron Bradshaw
    October 18, 2014 at 8:37 am


    I share you loss and grief with the loss of Bruce. He was one of the kindest, wisest, and generous friends I’ve had during the past fourty years. I will miss him abundantly. My God bless you.

    • dds
      October 18, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      Ron – thank you so much for your kind words about dad.

  8. Dan Berry
    October 18, 2014 at 8:53 am

    I got to know Bruce through our common interest in Downtown Billings. We didn’t always agree but I admired his passion and dedication to downtown and he was always civil in disagreement. He was a gentleman and so much more, as the wonderful obituary details.

    • dds
      October 18, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      Dan – thank you for writing. Dad taught me a long time ago that disagreement should be civil. You can admire and like someone and disagree just the same. He loved downtown, that is for certain.

  9. Jerry Hanson
    October 18, 2014 at 9:41 am

    When Bruce was in the legislature and the campaign was on I would give him 4 questions and gave him $25 for each right (according to me) answer. He always got $100!

    • dds
      October 18, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      Jerry – those questions must have been softballs for dad to get all four “correct.” 🙂

  10. Jim Helgeson
    October 18, 2014 at 10:37 am

    I knew Bruce through our mutual associations within the GOP,
    Pacyderm and other Republican venues. He was fun to be with
    and extremely articulate in those areas that meant the most to him.

    Bruce invited me to go fishing with him on the Big Horn—what
    fun we had. I don’t remember how many fish we caught, but I do
    remember the experience—awesome!

    My condolences to you, Bruce’s family. You have lost a treasure,
    but I am sure that his memories will be with you all—forever.

    Blessings to you all.


    • dds
      October 18, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      Jim – thank you for writing. I bet you caught a few but the experience will linger longer than the fish. “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.”

  11. Clark E. 'Jake' Koller
    October 18, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Bruce was my 1st Cousin… His father was my Mother’s older Brother. I got to visit with Bruce and his wife in 2012 when I scheduled a trip back to Billings. That was the first time I got to return to Montana since I was 6 years old and went to visit our Grand Parents in Bridger MT. After my visit in 2012 we shared a few E-Mails, keeping
    each up to date. I’m happy I got that last visit in. I have faint memories of our childhood visits to GrandMa’s Home in Bridger. God Bless you Bruce.


    • dds
      October 18, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Jake – it seems you even have my father’s father’s name. 🙂 Thank you for writing.

  12. Jan Costello-Clevenger
    October 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    I worked with Bruce and Ron at Coles up until it closed in 1985. I have often said it was my favorite “job” in all the world. We were a “family” at Coles and I loved and respected both these amazing brothers. Bruce was such a joy with his wry sense of humor. I remember, if I pulled a prank on him he’d just smile and say “watch out for the “gotcha” and I’d be on pins and needles waiting (sometimes a long time) for him to play his “gotcha” card! Bruce was without a doubt, a people person and will be deeply missed and never forgotten. My love and prayers go out to Sharon and family. I’ll bet he’s found the grandaddy of fishing holes in Heaven!! I owe you a “gotcha” next time we meet!! Jan

    • dds
      October 18, 2014 at 12:35 pm

      Jan – he’ll be fishing with me, Tod, and many other people. Right there next to us, unseen, but present. We’ll carry him with us in our memories.

      Coles was a special place and it truly was like family. I was the little brother in more ways than one. Unfortunately, I was only 10 when we closed. But I do have lots of memories there. Most involve me drinking Orange Crush out of a glass bottle and spinning in the chairs.

  13. Nancy Moore
    October 18, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    I first met Bruce when he was going door to door campaigning. My now ex-husband and I both really felt like he listened to us while on the campaign trail. We enjoyed visiting with him a lot. In the years after that, he would stop by if he was in the neighborhood, just to chat. When my ex and I divorced, I was saddened to know that I probably would not have the chance to visit with Bruce since I no longer lived in the house on Lewis Ave. Fast forward several years. I met Amy during my treatments for MS and we became friends. Imagine my surprise when she told me that Bruce was her father-in law! I told her that I really admired and respected him. Since then, I have had the opportunity to meet Bruce’s wife, Sharon and son Dave. All of whom have my respect and admiration. Last time I saw Bruce was probably a year ago. He and Sharon were having dinner at a local eatery as were my ex and I. They were, once again so personable. Bruce looked well and handsome as ever and I will forever remember how he looked that particular evening. My condolences go out to all of his family. They are all in my thoughts and I can’t imagine the hole they have in the family right now. Life will go on but it will be different. I know he will live on in the hearts and memories of many, many people – myself included.
    Nancy Moore

    • dds
      October 18, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Nancy – I had no idea you knew dad from that far back! Thank you so much for your kind thoughts.

  14. Gail Guthrie heatherly
    October 18, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    I’m sad to hear of Bruce’s death. He was a dear and treasured childhood friend. There was a little gang of four who lived on Burlington ave. when we were very young (4 to 7). We went through all of the the grades and high school together as well. I know he will be missed.

    • dds
      October 18, 2014 at 7:01 pm

      Gail, dad told many stories of the kids on Burlington. Those were cherished memories for him.

  15. billie krenzler
    October 18, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    A great friend. I am pleased to have worked with Bruce in the legislature and glad I was able to visit with him two weeks ago. Billie Krenzler

  16. Richard (Dick) Clark
    October 19, 2014 at 11:32 am

    I enjoyed setting next to Bruce at Pacyderm Friday lunches and our interaction when I was on Billings City Council. He was a lot of help and was always involved with the government of the city he loved. He will be missed.

  17. Beverly Hoff
    October 19, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    I miss him at the gym. His greeting to me was always “Hello little girl”.
    I am pleased to be a friend of both he and Sharon.

  18. Elwood English
    October 19, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    In 1984, when Bruce ran for the Legislature, I was the candidate chairman for the County Republican Party. Although I did not recruit Bruce, one of my jobs was to call to check on the candidates and help them if I could or if I knew of someone else who could. One day Bruce called me to tell me he had some good news and some bad news. I chose to hear the bad news first. He told me his neighbor was going to have to have some surgery. I impatiently and self-importantly thought to myself, but didn’t say, “How is that of interest to me?” Luckily all I said was, “So what is the good news?” “She is my opponent,” he told me. Of course I knew what that meant. She couldn’t go door-to-door for a couple of weeks. She was an attractive and smart young woman, and Bruce and I both considered her a dangerous rival. Two weeks missed on the doors just might be the advantage Bruce needed to beat her. And so it was. And so began a distinguished career in the Montana Legislature.

  19. Chris Cosner Fischer
    October 19, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I was shocked today to see Bruce’s obituary along with my Dad’s …Biddo Cosner…..Dad, Bruce and Ron were friends. Having worked at Coles in college, I remember Bruce as always having a smile for me, and he was funny and kind. I am so sorry for your loss. Please accept my sympathy and prayers. Chris

    • dds
      October 19, 2014 at 7:52 pm

      Chris – I am sorry to hear about Biddo’s passing. He was a good man and had a long history with our family. He also had great taste in college teams! Go Cats! (Uncle Ron disagrees, of course.)

    • Rande Roth
      October 21, 2014 at 8:40 pm

      Hi Chris – I was sad to read about Biddo as well. Having enured the loss of our parents, I hope you have some solace now. Bruce and I were good friends for many years, and I’ll miss him very much. RR

  20. Vickie Simon Young
    October 19, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Bruce’s cousin. Jake Koller let me know of Bruce’s death. They are both first cousins of my father, David Bruce Simon, who passed away nearly three years ago. Although I never knew Bruce personally, I remember his parents, Clark and Muriel. I am so amazed at all the things he accomplished in his life here on earth. My condolences to his family who I am sure are so proud of him and will miss him a great deal.

    With love,

    Vickie Simon Young

    • dds
      October 22, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      Thank you, Vickie. We appreciate your thoughts. We are definitely proud of him and we will miss him, we already do.

  21. Gay Ann Masolo
    October 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear about Bruce. I’ll miss our phone conversations. He was always so upbeat and positive. I told him I would see him when we came down to the NILE, but it wasn’t to be. He was such a great Chairman of Business and Labor and so knowledgeable. My prayers are with all of you and may Bruce be snagging the BIG one and releasing it with his big smile. God Bless!

  22. Becka Eide
    October 20, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    I didn’t know Bruce extremely well, but I frequently saw him at Anytime Fitness. He always encouraged me to work hard and never give up. He gave me my nickname, the “maniac”. Every time I hear the song “Maniac” I will think of Bruce. He will be greatly missed. I learned a lot from him about many things, but mostly to never give up and always keep growing/learning.

    • dds
      October 22, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      He loved his time at the gym and always talked about the people he met there. Thank you for writing.

  23. Rande Roth
    October 21, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    What a good friend Bruce has been to me over the years. I always enjoyed our lunches together (it is my turn to buy; guess he’ll have to wait a while to collect) – he always referred to me as “hairball” and I called him “BS” – for more than one reason. I only knew him slightly before he met with me as a new candidate for the legislature. On his own time (while running for his seat at the same time), he offered many ideas and lots of encouragement to me as a candidate. Partly due to his assistance, I was able to win my election. During my first session, he was my seatmate and provided me with invaluable advice on how to deal with the workings of the legislature and how to be a productive part of the process. We’ve been good friends ever since and over the years, I gained even more respect for him as I got to know Sharon and his family (including the dogs). What a positive influence he has had on this world – we should all leave a legacy like he has. He was respected by all who worked with him, whether in the legislature or on the many other boards and groups in which he participated. I was sorry to see him leave the legislature as he was such a positive influence on everything he touched. For one reason or another, I never got to go fishing with him. My loss; (guess that will have to wait too). We’ll all miss him, but we’re all better for having known him – Adios BS…

    • dds
      October 22, 2014 at 9:04 pm

      Rande, someday I’d like to know why he gave you the nickname “Hairball.” “BS” was apropos, no doubt. They had to be his initials because he loved to BS.

  24. Dr. Larry Obie
    October 22, 2014 at 11:06 pm

    To the Rep. Bruce Simon family, We are sorry for your loss. Bruce was a great person and a great asset to our State and a great friend and advocate for Optometry. Thank you for sharing him with us! Sincerely, Dr. Larry and Loretta Obie, Havre,MT.

  25. Mike Hansen
    October 23, 2014 at 11:59 am

    I will always remember what a great friend Bruce was to Optometry. Later on I was very fortunate to be able to share some wonderful conversations with Bruce up at Red Lodge. Treasured memories!
    Mike & Krystel Hansen

  26. October 23, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    My first meeting with Bruce was in Helena. I was one of several massage therapists that knew nothing about how things worked in the legislative process. With his help, we were able to navigate the ends and outs of that session and many more down the road. Bruce took the time to explain our options and what the pros and cons of being a licensed profession. He continued with his advice and support until the time of his passing. Bruce was a stand up guy, a great resource and a wonderful friend.

  27. Nancy M. Boyer
    October 23, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Bruce was so dedicated to making Billings a better place in which to live. He had
    a profound impact on many of us with whom he interacted.
    He would talk to me often when I served on the City Council 2004-2008. Bruce had
    many wonderful ideas and such energy. He was always a fair and concerned landlord
    as the Christian Science Reading Room has been in his building for many years. He
    will be missed by many but remembered by all. Thank you to Bruce and his family
    for all his dedication to Montana and especially Billings. Bill and Nancy Boyer

  28. JIm Pellegrini
    October 25, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Sorry to hear of Bruce’s passing. I am out of state or I would have been at the celebration of his life. I first met Bruce while he was serving on the Legislative Audit Committee. Bruce always made a point to interact with staff members – asking how we were doing – thanking us for our work – and discussing issues that were important to us and him. We went from there to fishing!!! There were many floats on the Missouri, the Madison, and the Yellowstone. These weren’t all ordinary floats. Hitting the Missouri River at midnight on a full moon to catch the “big browns” using mouse patterns – the beavers had better luck than we did. Trying our luck on the Yellowstone in December (several times) with the temperature just above freezing – thawing out your line by dipping it in the river and hoping you didn’t dip into the river. There was always the fine “fishing trip” dining of the Purple Cow, the base camp on the Madison, the Missouri Inn Restaurant, or any spot along the rivers that looked comfortable, even if there were plastic pink flamingos nearby. Bruce did let me keep one fish. It was my first “lunker” caught on a fly rod on the Missouri. The 31” brown is mounted in my basement and the plate reads “Boat by Seacat – Guide by Simon – Caught by Luck”. In fishing terms – “He was a great guide. It was a good run.” He’ll be missed.

    • dds
      October 26, 2014 at 7:28 pm

      Jim, your post made me smile. I love the text of the mount! That shows a great sense of humor!

  29. Mike Yakawich
    October 25, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    It was an honor to know Mr. Bruce Simon. I met him at his door last year 2014. We had lunch at Olive Garden and over the next two hours he shared his views of “good governance”. Then after our lunch meeting, he said, “You can put your campaign sign in my yard!” …and he wished me well. In the months since, we sat at his kitchen table as he drew out thoughts on paper on better traffic flow around Lewis Ave. He called often to explain the important of safe traffic, maintenance of downtown streets, and even the idiosyncrasies of “millings”. Your husband and father was an elder statesman and an exemplary leader for our community. Now, the angels have their time to hear his insights and thoughts. All the best Simon family.

    • dds
      October 26, 2014 at 7:25 pm

      Thank you for your comments, Mike. And thank you for coming to the open house yesterday. It was amazing to see how many people dad had affected during his life in so many different ways.

  30. Dave Simon
    November 5, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    I’ve known Bruce most of my life. My Grandfather David Lawrence Simon was Bruce’s father Clark’s older brother. My father James George Simon, now age 91, introduced me to Bruce when I was young.

    I remember Bruce fly fishing at Red Lodge that time. When I lived in Billings in the 1980’s, Bruce was closing the department store and I would see him downtown a lot. Bruce was always congenial and sociable. He will be missed.

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