Turtle's Progress

Thursday, November 15, 2007


In May I received a phone call from Anniston. Rebecca wanted to let me know of Judy's death. She had been sick with congestive heart failure and under hospice care for most of the previous year but it still came as a shock. We had stayed in touch after my move to Tennessee through sporatic and spontaneous phone calls. We talked as we had when we were together; solving the world's problems in one breath, not giving a flip in the next.

We were destined to become friends after many chance meetings during our years in Anniston. She had returned to care for her ailing mother at about the same time I had moved there with my family. She visited in my home one evening at the invitation of a mutual friend. I sat in awe of her intelligence, her wisdom, and her grace. Months later she visited a PFLAG meeting I often attended in support of my gay nephew. She was doing research for a series of columns she was writing for the local newspaper. Months after this in November 2002 we met together with many others on a cold rainy night for a candlelight vigil for peace. In early 2003 Judy and I stood together often on the corner of 11th and Quintard holding signs protesting the build-up to the Iraq war. The cracked cement of that sidewalk served to bond us together as friends.

Despite being a fairly recent transplant to Anniston, Judy had many friends in our little town. And she felt it her duty to make sure they all knew each other. She strived to introduce friends from one part of her life to friends she knew in other ways. (A new friend of mine here in Tennessee who has worked with Native Americans her entire life and is married to a Cherokee, says that this is the Indian way -- when they meet someone new, the question is not, "what do you do or where do you work?" but "who do you know?" Your friends are your credentials. Judy shared this value). Because of this I met many folks I would not otherwise have known. She loved good conversation, discussion, and debate, and never hesitated to arrange lunches, dinners, and get-togethers among all kinds of folks to facilitate this love.

Judy loved to help folks with their problems. She especially gave sage advice when it came to interpersonal relationships. She had a way about her that made people want to open up. She told it like she saw it, and often that meant telling people things they didn't want to hear. But they always listened and often came back for more. From her closest friends to those she had just met; if she knew your story and you asked for her opinion, you would get it. If you were in her life for whatever reason, she wanted to know you. As you talked, she made you feel like the most important person in her life. And while she was with you, you were. She cared deeply about those in her ever-expanding circle. Her circle included the waitresses at her favorite restaurants, her hospice home health aids, and the mechanic who serviced her car, as well as her close friends. I once returned to the Starbucks's patio after ordering our coffees to find that in a short few minutes she had engaged a young woman sketching images, and that interest had encouraged this budding artist to share her entire sketch pad with Judy. That's how she was with folks.

As sad as I was when I heard of Judy's passing, I had to smile a few days later when I read her initial obituary in the Anniston Star:

"ANNISTON - Funeral services for Mrs. Judy D. Simmons, 62, of Anniston will be announced later by Ervin Funeral Chapel. Mrs. Simmons died Sunday, May 6, 2007 at Regional Medical Center. "

After reading this I shook my head in disbelief. Judy was a part of the women's rights movement from waaaaay back. She was a card-carrying member of NOW and an editor at Ms magazine. She was NEVER a Mrs. and she was "Judy Dothard Simmons". I did not have to wonder at what her reaction would have been.

I recently found this obituary while doing a google search of her name. A much more appropriate and fitting announcement of her departure from this life:

Judy Simmons, Editor and Writer, Dies at 62
Judy Dothard Simmons, 62, a poet, journalist, author and broadcaster, died May 6 in Anniston, Ala., from heart complications, her friend Fern Gillespie said.
Since the 1970s, Simmons' writings and broadcasts won her acclaim. She had been a senior editor at Essence and Ms. magazines, managing editor of the NAACP's Crisis magazine, a columnist for the old Africana.com and an editor at Black Enterprise. During the early 1980s, she had radio talk shows on New York's first black commercial talk station, WLIB, and on Pacifica's WBAI-FM. Her articles appeared in the Village Voice and American Legacy Woman, and she had been a guest on the Phil Donahue show.
During the 1990s, Simmons returned to Alabama and was a columnist for the Anniston (Ala.) Star. A celebrated poet, she was a Revson Fellow at Columbia University and did graduate work in poetry. Simmons was the author of several books of poetry and essays, including "Decent Intentions," "Judith's Blues," and "A Light in the Dark." She was also a contributor to "Wild Women Don't Wear No Blues," a 1993 collection edited by Marita Golden.
Funeral arrangements are pending. She wrote recently, "I'm listening to the fine classical jazz collection I've amassed over the years, putting my affairs in order, loving my dog and my friends, and generally having a good time for the first time in fifteen or twenty years. I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death and feeling damn good about it. I fear no evil, for I AM always and ever living."

RIP Judy. I miss you.


At 11:56 AM, Blogger erin said...

Love this post about your dear friend. And love that you're blogging again! Maybe I'll add you back to my favorites list. :)

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Joyce said...

Thanks, my friend, for sharing this on your blog. I know the obit. brought back memories...but they are good ones.
I'm sure you miss her, deeply, and just remember...you are one of the lucky-ones to have come into her life.
I love you, Terry

At 11:46 AM, Anonymous Lor said...

So happy to see you're using your God given talent again. I missed reading it. Judy was a lucky woman to have you as a friend. If I die before you, you damm well better write my eulogy!

At 10:16 AM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

I can't imagine how painful it will be to start losing my girlfriends. Maybe since I'm the oldest I won't have to find out! Glad you're back to blogging!!


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home