After more than 30 years of caring for her husband and three children, Dorothy Simon decided to attain the college degree she had missed. And in 1983, she accomplished her mission when she earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Mrs. Simon beat by a few months her son, David Simon, a soon-to-be reporter for The Sun and eventual creator of “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Street.”
“We both graduated the same year, albeit she was summa cum laude and I was summa cum nothing,” said Mr. Simon, who graduated in August. “She was the better student.”
Mrs. Simon, a homemaker who became a therapist counseling clients with marital and personal issues in her own kitchen, died Sept. 21 of undetermined causes at her home in Silver Spring. She was 97.
Pat Meyers — who was director of the Black Student Fund, a nonprofit organization that awarded promising students scholarships to area private schools, and who hired Mrs. Simon to help her — compared Mrs. Simon’s intelligence and sense of humor favorably to those of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice who died Sept. 18.
“I think had she been born 25 years later, her path would have taken a different direction,” Mrs. Meyers said. “On the other hand, [her children] Gary and Linda and David would not have been Gary, Linda and David. She put all of that energy into them, and they are spectacular.”
The former Dorothy Ligeti was the third of four children born to Herman Ligeti, a dairy salesman, and the former Helen Steiner, a homemaker and rental manager. As she grew up up in New York, her childhood was shaped by the Great Depression, which resulted in her father’s losing a dairy company he started and moving the family from a house they had built in The Rockaways to an apartment with no running hot water in Williamsburg.
“She told me once that it was the only time she had ever seen her father cry,” Mr. Simon said from his home in Baltimore. “She woke up in the middle of the night, and he was contending with the fact that he couldn’t pay his bills and he had four children. She felt the heart of the Depression there.”
After graduating from high school in 1940, Mrs. Simon attended Hunter College in New York City for two semesters before leaving to marry Bernard Simon. The two met in the summer of 1939 when Mrs. Simon’s family ran the Paramount Manor in the Catskill Mountains and Mr. Simon was hired as a social director.
David Simon said that one night his father concocted a telegram informing him that a great uncle who had died had left him a considerable sum of money. His father then asked everyone at the Catskill resort what he should do with the money.
“My mother’s opinion was, ‘You’re an idiot if you take anyone’s opinion. You should do what you want with the money,’ ” Mr. Simon said. “My dad said it was at that moment that he realized that Dorothy Ligeti was somebody he might be interested in. Her answer had such bluster to it. He was charmed by that.”
While her husband served in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Hamilton’s New York Port of Embarkation, Mrs. Simon worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for two years, helping to ship materiel for the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944.
After World War II ended, Mr. Simon was a reporter for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and a publicist for the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith. In 1956, the family moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where Mr. Simon served as the public relations director for B’nai B’rith.
Mrs. Meyers, who hired Mrs. Simon as a secretary in the early 1970s, said Mrs. Simon worked closely with parents and school administrators and even counseled some students.
“She was wildly overqualified just because she was smarter than hell,” Mrs. Meyers said. “She was a very wise woman. She is one of those people to whom everybody that comes in contact with her would turn to for advice or just someone to listen to you.”
In 1974, Mrs. Simon enrolled at Montgomery College in Rockville, graduating with an associate’s degree in 1978. During that time, she did social work at Alternative House, a residential facility that provided shelter to runaway minors and engaged their families in counseling.
After earning her degree at the University of Maryland, Mrs. Simon established her own practice in her family’s home. Mr. Simon said it was commonplace to return from school and find a client waiting in the living room and the kitchen off-limits because his mother was working.
Mr. Simon said his mother was destined to be a therapist, from which she retired in 1994.
“My mother was really astute at how people think and feel,” he said. “She was more than intuitive. She was always curious about it. She was the person in the family who when everybody was sort of struggling with something, they found a way to her kitchen. She was really adept at parsing the human condition. It interested her, and she was a very good listener.”
While Mr. Simon rose to prominence for his work in the literary and television worlds, older brother Gary Simon became vice chair of the department of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Services. Alan Wasserman, who chairs the department, said Mrs. Simon liked to poke a little fun at David Simon’s career.
“She said, ‘I’m so lucky. I have two sons. One is an Emmy Award-winning writer, director and producer … and the other one is a doctor,’” Dr. Wasserman said, adding emphasis to Gary’s occupation. “For a Jewish mother, that was pretty amazing.”
Mr. Simon said his mother consumed novels, historical texts and books on sociology and psychology. She also enjoyed watching operas and listening to Frank Sinatra albums every night while preparing dinner or cleaning the kitchen — until one fateful moment.
“He embraced [former U.S. president] Richard Nixon and hugged [vice president] Spiro Agnew, and I never heard her play a Sinatra record again,” Mr. Simon said of his mother, who was a New Deal Democrat. “It was over. She went from being a devotee of Frank Sinatra to being ‘He’s dead to me,’ in a single political moment.”
Mrs. Simon remained tenacious even in her elder age. A couple of years ago, she suffered a displaced fracture in her right foot and was taken by her daughter-in-law to the emergency room at George Washington Hospital, where Dr. Wasserman met them.
The doctor treating Mrs. Simon informed her that she would have to wear a boot. She objected, claiming it would impede her ability to drive. The doctor continued to insist.
“She goes, ‘Doctor, you wear it. I’m going home,’ ” Dr. Wasserman said with a laugh. “It took us an hour to convince her to put it on. That’s the way she was. She was just a pistol.”
A graveside service for Mrs. Simon took place Sept. 23 at King David Memorial Garden in Falls Church, Virginia, next to her husband, who died in 2010, and her daughter, who died in 1990.
In addition to her son, Mrs. Simon is survived another son, Gary Simon of Potomac, and six grandchildren.
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