08/13/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

J. Stephen Simon, The Exceptional Oil Man


J. Stephen Simon, Director, Senior VP of ExxonMobil (retired 2008) dies. That will be the official line. But he was simply the man who married my sister; the man who was always there for me.

From the time I was old enough to remember, when I thought of my sister Susie, it was always in conjunction with Steve. That's because they fell in love in 9th grade and stayed together the rest of their lives.

That is until this past week when this dynamo of a man had a massive heart attack, leaving his family, his beautiful daughters, all of us in slack-jawed disbelief. Gone.

J. Stephen Simon didn't start at the top. He worked his way up, all the way. When he married Susie they definitely couldn't afford some fancy honeymoon. It was a quick celebration after an amazing December wedding, then off to work Steve went. Nothing given, all earned, with Susie by his side every step of the way. The noble quest of acquiring all you have through hard work, dedication, love of family, and staying true to your humble Missouri roots. Steve never forgot where he came from and always remembered how hard he and Susie worked to get what they achieved. With the only thing that ever really mattered to him was making Susie happy. That he did, more than they could ever have dreamed might manifest.

Others might remember J. Stephen Simon from congressional hearings. Let's just say his testimony was animated, which is why I chose the shot at the top of this post. Steve was larger than life.

Stephen Simon, Senior Vice President, Exxon Mobil Corp. reiterated that point. "Imposing punitive taxes on American companies will discourage the investments needed to safeguard our energy security. The pursuit of alternative fuels must not detract from investments in oil and gas," he said.

Markey hammered Exxon's Simon over the company's investment in renewable energy. "Why is Exxon Mobil resisting the renewable energy revolution?" asked Markey.

Simon said Exxon has given $100 million to Stanford to study renewables. "$100 million?" said Markey. "But you made $40 billion last year."

When pressed, Simon said Exxon believes the current generation of renewable energy options will not be able to significantly meet demand.

... Exxon has long said it is in the business of oil, and that it prefers to leave renewable energy up to the renewable energy companies. Although the company has received some praise -- even from its critics -- for its investments in cutting-edge battery technology.

I remember when I wrote to Steve and my sister about working on the side of Al Gore on climate change (also Robert Redford). He respected my decision, then sent me an information packet filled with data. We never engaged in a fight over energy or ExxonMobil. As was fitting given my conflict of interest on the subject, I didn't cover anything that incorporated ExxonMobil and little on the oil industry, writing disclaimers about it to explain the emails asking why I wasn't. Knowing Steve, it taught me why demonizing people through politics on issues because of what they do, especially when it's a commodity that's been instrumental in our country's history and national security, never tells the full story when it's a man as good as Steve. I learned that story through my family.

ExxonMobil has many enemies on the progressive and activist side, but I can say with pride and without equivocation that J. Stephen Simon was one of the most honorable, decent, dedicated American patriots you'll ever find. Yes, even an oil man can be a patriot.

Steve and I had several conversations on politics, though not nearly as many as I would have liked. It was tough given his position and my work. I'll cherish what he told me in confidence, because you can imagine the access he had. I don't think he'd mind now me saying this much on one subject. Thumbs up on Hillary. On John McCain.... um... not so much. But you had to know Steve to appreciate the color he added when politics was the subject. Steve's mental brilliance made for a razor sharp wit.

Yes, he graduated number one from his class at Duke; and number one when he got his MBA from Northwestern... Served in the Army.

However, this isn't what I'll remember most about Steve.

It's the moments Steve was there, like when I was a little girl and dad had died, and he stepped up. Then there was Steve's unending understanding when a rift turned into a divide until I flew to Italy, where he was president, Esso Italiano, Rome. Telling the story of a personal family tragedy, Steve crying along with me as he helped us put the past where it belonged. What he did for me throughout my life, his generosity, the sibling trips he and Susie treated us to, where we all landed in a city taking in the best theater, then barnstorming the best restaurants, where the good food and wine flowed, with so much laughter you cried. Treating me to a fabulous, first-class ticket to Venice on the train, as well as one of the finest hotels on the Grand Canal. It also didn't surprise me when I walked into my room to see long-stem red roses waiting. That was Steve... and Susie.

So, the loss... It's all so crushing.

It just seems wrong that "life goes on." It should stop. Everyone should stop. If just for a moment when someone this good, this remarkable, this dedicated to his family passes from the earth plain.

Steve and Susie. From the time I can remember, there wasn't one without the other. It was simply the greatest of love affairs.

Taylor Marsh reports from Washington, D.C., with podcasts, "TM-DC".