SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Paul Simon, the bow-tie-wearing missionary's son who rose from crusading newspaper owner to two-term US senator and presidential aspirant, died yesterday, a day after undergoing heart surgery. He was 75.
Mr. Simon had a single bypass and heart valve surgery at St. John's Hospital. The cause of death was extensive bowel ischemia, in which blood stopped flowing to the intestines, causing the release of toxins. "He was a brilliant senator with a flair for grass-roots politics, a reformer to the core, and the conscience of the Senate, never hesitating to hold the Senate to its highest ideals," said US Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. "In another era, he would have been a founding father."
The southern Illinois Democrat's political career began with his election to the state Legislature in 1954 and culminated with his election to the US Senate in 1984. He retired from Congress in 1997. Mr. Simon announced in 1987 that he was seeking the Democratic nomination for president the following year. He suspended his campaign after having won only his home state's primary.
"I leave the field of active campaigning with no regrets for having made the race," he said, "because it has been an exhilarating experience to get to know our nation better." He later wrote a book about the campaign, "Winners and Losers." In all, he wrote 13 books.
When he announced in 1994 he would not seek a third term in 1996, he said: "I have an obligation to the people of Illinois, to the Senate and to myself to leave the Senate while I am still eager to serve, not after I tire of serving."
He said he enjoyed campaigning and making policy but not fund-raising.
Mr. Simon was a bespectacled, slightly rumpled man with a strong reputation for honesty, a politician who began disclosing his personal finances in the 1950s. He had the sober, straight-laced bearing of a Sunday school teacher. He blended fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. Raised during the Depression, the son of a Lutheran minister, he saw the great needs facing the country and how government responded through New Deal programs.
"Government is not the enemy," he said in 1988. "Government is simply a tool that can be used wisely or unwisely. . . . We can do better, my friends."
His family struggled during his childhood. "I learned that you have to be careful with money," he said.
That explained his reputation as a "pay-as-you-go" Democrat who would rather raise taxes than rely on deficit financing -- and why he so long championed a balanced budget amendment.
"To be a liberal doesn't mean you're a wastrel," said Mr. Simon, citing the words of a political mentor, Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois.
In the Senate, Mr. Simon helped overhaul the federal student loan program to enable students and their families to borrow directly from the government.
"He was the Education Senator," Kennedy said. "His landmark achievements in all aspects of education, especially college aid, are more important than ever today."
A native of Oregon, Mr. Simon was just 19 when, in 1948, he dropped out of college, borrowed $3,600, and bought a failing weekly newspaper in Troy, Ill., a town of about 1,500 near St. Louis. He became the nation's youngest editor-publisher. His blasts at crime and corruption did not make waves until Governor Adlai Stevenson took notice and ordered a series of state police raids. Mr. Simon's role put his name in the pages of Life.
Even as a lawmaker, he remained loyal to his roots in journalism, banging out a weekly newspaper column on an old-fashioned manual typewriter. Mr. Simon eventually owned 14 newspapers and sold the group in 1966.
In 1953, Mr. Simon decided to run for the Illinois Legislature. Though he declared himself a Republican and endorsed Thomas E. Dewey over Harry Truman in a 1948 editorial, Mr. Simon made a fundamental concession to the local political climate: He ran as a Democrat. He later served in the state Senate and as lieutenant governor before
winning a seat in the US House in 1974.
In 1984, he took on three-term GOP Senator Charles Percy, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and won by a 50-48 vote. After he retired from Congress in 1997, Mr. Simon taught at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, near his hometown of Makanda, and ran the Public Policy Institute, a bipartisan think tank he founded.