David Simon, a musician, artist and academic who came to Baltimore in 1979 as the founding director of the School for the Arts, died July 7 of heart failure at Brookdale, a Towson assisted-living facility.
The Roland Park resident was 92.
"David was just amazing. He came here after a very successful career in New York. He introduced the conservatory model for the school, which made it a real training school for the students and not just an expanded arts program," said Anthony M. Carey, a lawyer who was chairman of the board of overseers that screened applicants for the position.
"He got the program going, set its course, established its model, and brought in an excellent faculty," he said. "It was David who got the school up and running in the old Alcazar Hotel on Cathedral Street that was being converted into a school and only half-finished at the time."
"It was his vision that put the school on the right path and made it the magical place that it is," said Leslie Shepard, who was director of the school from 2000 until retiring in 2011. "He wanted it to be the top pre-professional school in the country."
The son of Samuel Simon, a Lithuanian house painter, and Molly Pansky Simon, a homemaker, David Simon was born in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he graduated in 1946 from the School of Industrial Arts.
Mr. Simon's interest in the arts, which began as a child drawing and painting, had an inauspicious beginning.
"We were very poor and went through the Depression [during which] my father was unemployed and then wound up working for the WPA [Works Progress Administration]; there was no thought of art," Mr. Simon told The Baltimore Sun in a 1995 interview.
His elder brother, Gabriel, who worked at a local barbershop, took mandolin lessons from the owner, while Mr. Simon was offered a position in a band that needed a baritone horn player.
"They sort of gave me a horn as a scholarship," Mr. Simon said.
Mr. Simon was 13 when he was awarded his first citywide music scholarship. At the age of 14, he performed in an ensemble at the 1939 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, and made his conducting debut at 16 directing a concert band of his peers at Carnegie Hall.
From 1943 to 1946, he served as a Marine Corps radio operator, and participated in the battles for Guam and Iwo Jima in the Pacific.
He earned a bachelor's degree in 1950 in music from the Manhattan School of Music, and a master's degree, also in music, from the school in 1951.
In 1952 and 1953, he traveled with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus as a euphonium player. He performed as a soloist and assistant conductor with Paul Lavalle's Band of America, and also played with the New York Philharmonic as a euphonium specialist, and again at the 1964 World's Fair, which was again held Flushing Meadows.
He also recorded with RCA, Victor, Decca and MGM records.
As a teacher and an adjunct professor, Mr. Simon taught graduate music courses at the Teachers College of Columbia University from 1953 to 1966, and was the conductor of the New York University concert band from 1967 to 1970.
From 1970 until coming to Baltimore in 1979, Mr. Simon was dean of the Manhattan School of Music; he had previously served as the school's registrar from 1967 to 1970.
"I was the person who called him," Mr. Carey recalled. "I had heard that he was looking for a new challenge, so I called him and he said he'd come to town, and because of his incredible credentials, we hired him on the spot. He was critical in terms of devising its programs."
Mr. Carey described the School for the Arts as a "unique school," where students audition in order to be accepted.
The public high school offers classes in acting, music, both vocal and instrumental, dance and the visual arts.
"Here in this one building it must be apparent to all of us that we live in an almost ideal situation," Mr. Simon said in a 1987 Sun article.
"We are one family, without special treatment of black or white, rich or poor, or anything in between. There is no discrimination here against men or women, among teachers or students. The School for the Arts best exemplifies what public education should be," he said.
"If people are going to be here for three to four years, we are going to give them everything we can in basic technique," he said.
In order to make his vision a reality, Mr. Simon assembled a professional faculty that included Nathan Carter, who was director of Morgan State University's music department.
Students in drawing and design, painting, printmaking and sculpting, studied under the guidance of Carole E. Byard, while those planning for a career in the theater, studied with veteran Center Stage director and actor Donald E. Hicken.
Dance students — both modern and ballet — studied with Sylvester Campbell, an internationally acclaimed ballet dancer from Baltimore, who went on to teach at the school for 15 years.
"He hired me as dean of arts, and we were all part of the original team," Ms. Shepard said. "David had high standards, and he made sure that things were done that reflected professional standards. He had high expectations for everyone."
He also established the TWIGS program at the school that offered free classes in music, dance, visual arts and theater to city students in second through eighth grades.
"David loved the kids and he would sit and talk with them in the cafeteria," Ms. Shepard said. "He was very engaging and close to them, and it gave him great joy."
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"H was a very genial and friendly person but he could get testy if challenged," Mr. Carey said. "He was a genial host who told lots of wonderful stories. I was very, very fond of him."
After retiring in 1995, Mr. Simon remained a member of the school's board.
Mr. Simon, who worked in oils and watercolors and favored painting landscapes, had exhibitions of his work at the School for the Arts, the Schuler School of Fine Arts and the Charcoal Club.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Aug. 12 at the School for the Arts, 712 Cathedral St.
He is survived by his wife of 54 years, the former Carole Szorc, former administrator of the downtown farmers' market; two sons, Darrell Simon of Baltimore and Robert Simon of San Bernardino, Calif.; three daughters, Dr. Nancy Simon of New York City, Ann Henderson of Maplewood, N.J., and Eve Safran of Tenafly, N.J.; and seven grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Grace Burza ended in divorce.