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Bob Simon: Champion for the Lost Boys, Interpreter for Humanity

02/16/2015 10:06 am ET | Updated Apr 15, 2015

I remember the day in April 2001 when Bob Simon flew into northern Kenya's Kakuma Refugee Camp to cover the Lost Boys, a story that has become among the most watched in 60 Minutes' history, and that Bob followed for the next twelve years.

Bob brought the Lost Boys' plight to life as only an inspired artist could, following story lines and crafting language and metaphors that captivated Americans and the world. The first episode aired in 2001, part II in 2002, a special retrospective in 2013, and multiple reruns at various times, perhaps 12 episode airings in total.

Filming periodically between 2001 and 2013 he and his team captured some of the most important, poignant, and funny moments in the unfolding saga -- arrival in the US, a first job, a citizenship ceremony, a marriage, the famous driving lesson, dreams fulfilled, hopes slipping away, finding and reconnecting with a mother thought to be dead, and so much more.

On that first day in Kakuma Bob seemed at ease in the sun-scorched, dustbowl camp with its camel spiders and scorpions, and was quick to make friends with many of the Lost Boys. In the most recent 60 Minutes piece as Bob travels to Kansas City, one of them greets him in a tone rich with friendship and past connections -- "hey, Bob Simon... long time no see!"

I watched Bob start to form these bonds in his first meetings with Lost Boys in Kakuma. He was so personable, listening thoughtfully and showing with his eyes, his body language, and his questions and conversations that he cared about their experiences and their lives.

Bob flew into South Sudan one day to stand at one of the routes the Lost Boys took as they narrowly escaped the violence that pursued them. When he returned to the camp that evening he told me in an animated way about what he had seen, explaining, "we were right there on one of their routes. Many of the Lost Boys here in Kakuma have told me how they fled in small groups, and then they met up with others. As they found each other it must have been like streams of young children that became rivers until an exodus of biblical proportions was taking place."

He wasn't just telling me about what he saw, he was already crafting the language and ideas that would anchor the story and make it so captivating and successful.

I watched him build relationships with them that I believe were among the more meaningful in the last decade of his life, put their experiences into a historic context, and wrap it all up in unforgettable, quotable language -- "an exodus of biblical proportions", "the Lord of the Flies in reverse," "chased at gunpoint to the Gilo River where the waters did not part."

His ability to convey this story helped to inspire books, movies, troves of volunteers, and millions of dollars for relief organizations. His 60 Minutes essays (that's what they really were) built a national consciousness for the Lost Boys.

He humanized, honored, and connected with these children-turned-young-adults from a far corner of the world who survived a remote genocide, and in so doing he brought their lives into our homes and hearts. It's all too easy to turn away from the greatest horrors, but Bob's journalistic artistry turned us towards this one.

Bob, Draggan (his producer for 21 years), and I had planned to have dinner to celebrate the Lost Boys and the 60 Minutes successes. While we can't do that now, we'll continue to honor everything Bob accomplished and stood for. He was a friend, a champion for the Lost Boys, and an extraordinary and noble interpreter for humanity.