J.R. Simplot's cowboy hat -- Idaho's most famous hat -- is back where it belongs

twoodward@idahostatesman.comMarch 5, 2009 

J.R. Simplot's cowboy hat, missing for nine months after being stolen during his June memorial service, was returned to the Simplot family Wednesday.

"I'm beaming," Scott Simplot, the late billionaire's son, said when told that the hat had been located. "It's become part of the local culture, the way it went away and all, and now it's finally back."

The hat was stolen from a floral arrangement at Qwest Arena after Simplot's death at 99. The theft made headlines throughout the state, outraged those who revered its owner and made the hat an instant icon. It was returned in response to a Feb. 22 Ask Tim column urging the person who took the hat to call the Idaho Statesman.

The following week, a caller agreed to produce it in exchange for a guarantee of anonymity. The person who called said that someone else had taken the hat and later entrusted it to the caller.

Why would someone steal J.R. Simplot's hat?

"Stupidity," the caller said. "It was one of those stupid, impulsive acts and was almost instantly regretted."

The off-white hat with small green and orange feathers is estimated to be about 25 years old. Though not an expensive hat, it was a favorite of the ever-optimistic industrialist whose name was synonymous with the Idaho potato. Purchased at Boise's long-defunct Purcell's western-wear store, it was a gift from Simplot's longtime friend Tom Basabe.

"I think it's awesome that it's back," Basabe said. "I never did like those feathers, though. I don't know how many times I told him to get rid of them, but he liked them."

Scott Simplot said that when a waitress at a restaurant where he was having lunch learned that the hat had been found, "she just exploded. Because of what happened to it, it's become everybody's hat. É This is a fun story. With all the bad news lately, this is something good."

J.R. Simplot, Idaho's leading entrepreneur and philanthropist, died May 25 at age 99. Esther Simplot, his widow, was in California Wednesday and couldn't be reached for comment. Scott Simplot said he would tell her the hat had been returned.

He also said that in time it would be displayed publicly in an appropriate setting.

"We should all put this hat on," he said. "It's just an old hat, but it's become a symbol of my father and his optimism.

Tim Woodward: 377-6409

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