John Simon: The man behind Simon Hall

John E. Simon was a St. Louis investor and philanthropist. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1896, Mr. Simon attended Smith Academy in St. Louis. After serving during World War I and graduating from Harvard University in 1918, Mr. Simon joined the firm of I.M. Simon & Company in St. Louis in 1919. Founded in 1874 by his great uncle, the firm is believed to have been the third oldest New York Stock Exchange member firm and the oldest continuous member firm west of the Mississippi River.

John E. Simon

John E. Simon

Mr. Simon became a partner in 1925 and guided the firm through the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the Depression, and World War II. The firm helped form and finance many national and local companies, including Delta Airlines, Litton Industries, and McDonnell Douglas Corp.

Simon directed the firm as General Partner for nearly 50 years and remained active in the firm as a Limited Partner for many years after that. Simon & Co. merged with R. Rowland & Co. in 1988, and the firm was acquired by Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in 1989.

In 1979, Mr. Simon established the John E. Simon Professor of Finance endowed professorship at the Washington University business school. He was also a generous donor to other areas of the University, most notably the School of Medicine. He also provided support to Jewish Hospital, Saint Louis University, Westminster College, Maryville University, and the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Mr. Simon was presented the honorary degrees of Doctor of Humane Letters by Washington University in 1983 and Doctor of Laws by Maryville University in 1975. Maryville University’s John E. Simon Business School is named after him.

Simon was also a bridge champion and life master, representing the United States in the World Bridge Olympics in 1962, 1966, and 1978.

On October 7, 1983, the business school broke ground on a new home, which was located just west of Prince Hall (where the DUC now stands). The $13 million project was a major milestone on a checklist created by the Business School Task Force that reshaped and redirected the school in the late 1970s. The new business school building did not have a name yet, but Charles F. Knight, Emerson CEO and Chair of the Task Force, was determined to move the school out of Prince Hall and into modern facilities. He spoke to a gathering of more than 700 people in Graham Chapel before the groundbreaking:

“It takes an event like this to bring things together and put in focus a process that’s been underway for quite a while here … I am excited today about what’s going on at the Washington University Business School, and I am proud to be a part of that process.”

A few months later in April 1984, a reception in honor of Mr. and Mrs. John E. Simon was held to announce the naming of the new business school building under construction. It would be named John E. Simon Hall.

“When a name is given to a building at Washington University, it ideally should be of a distinguished person who will make our alumni and friends proud, and who by his accomplishments, character, and qualities will be an inspiration for our students and faculty in the future,” said Robert Virgil, dean of the business school at the time. “Mr. Simon meets this standard in every way. He is a wonderful, most generous person, who throughout his career has stood for the highest in sound business judgement and ethical conduct. All of us in the Business School are proud that our new home will be the John E. Simon Hall.”

When Simon Hall was dedicated in April 1987, it was one of the largest academic buildings on the Danforth Campus with 80,000 square feet of usable floor space.

John E. Simon died of natural causes on November 22, 1993, at Jewish Hospital; he was 97.

In an obituary published by the University, Washington University Chancellor William H. Danforth said of Simon, “Mr. Simon led the way with a wisdom, a quiet kindness, and generosity of spirit that were his special characteristics.”


Photo, top: John E. Simon (middle), with Dean Emeritus Bob Virgil and John E. Simon Professor of Finance Jess Yawitz, is awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the University’s commencement ceremonies in 1983. 

Sources: Business School News, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Washington Magazine, and Washington University Photographic Services.

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