MISSOULA – Patricia “Pat” Kimble Simmons passed away Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, at St. Patrick Hospital, surrounded by family and friends, unafraid, free of pain, and looking forward to being reunited with her beloved husband and best friend, Don. Her family is deeply grateful to the nurses, doctors and chaplains at St. Pat’s.
Pat was born in Chicago on Oct. 3, 1929, to Ruth Hazen Kimble and Ralph Archibald Kimble. She and her brothers and cousins grew up in the Avalon Park neighborhood in South Chicago. A child of the Depression, the New Deal and World War II, Pat learned early that we are all vulnerable, and that we can take care of each other through our families, our communities and our government.
With their father and older brothers Dave and Ted away at war, Pat and her younger brother Dan loved taking the streetcar to the Museum of Science and Industry, where their mother led education programs, and to the WPA-sponsored community band concerts in Grant Park. Pat shared vivid memories of seeing the Glenn Miller Orchestra play before movies in the park. When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Pat wept with joy for that historic election, for the victory celebration in her hometown Grant Park, and for a South Chicago girl heading to the White House as first lady.
Pat attended Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., from 1947-51. Majoring in English and French, she began her career as a writer and supporter of writers as editor of the weekly newspaper, The Student. Pat met Don Simmons when they were cast together in “The Desert Song” at Knox, beginning a lifetime of shared music. Pat was an accomplished singer who sang in Don’s church, community and university choirs. They were married July 1, 1951, and had three children: Elizabeth in 1953, Kim “JK” in 1955 and David in 1959.
Pat was inspired by her mother’s activism for women’s suffrage, her aunt’s work at settlement houses and reservations, and the female doctor who delivered both Pat and Pat’s daughter. She believed women should have equal rights and their own identities while also being wives and mothers, and was part of a generation that worked daily to make this possible. During the 1960s, Pat and Don vehemently opposed the war in Vietnam, and equally vehemently supported civil rights and women’s rights. Their commitment to peace and social justice remained evident in their weekly vigils on the Higgins Avenue bridge when the Iraq war began, and in their joy at participating in Missoula’s political, arts and community life.
Like many families of their generation, Pat and Don relocated as Don’s career advanced, but no matter where they lived, they worked together to create a home, and Pat made a place for herself in the community. She worked for the Army at Fort Slocum in New York, where Don was stationed, taught French in Grosse Pointe, Mich., where Don taught public school music, and became arts publicity officer for Ohio State University when Don joined that music faculty.
Pat and Don moved to Missoula with their son David when Don was hired to chair the University of Montana Department of Music in 1973. Soon after, Elizabeth and Kim came to visit, fell in love with Missoula, and moved into the family home. When Pat’s mother was widowed, she joined the family in a three-generation home a few blocks from the campus where Pat and Don worked. All three children and Grandma Ruth attended the university, and all of the Simmons children and Pat’s granddaughter Zoe graduated from UM.
Pat loved Missoula, and Missoula loved her back. She directed the Montana Arts Council’s Artists in the Schools Program, and designed events for the first Governor’s Awards in both the Arts and the Humanities. As executive director of the Missoula Downtown Association, Pat promoted local small businesses, and created the “Out to Lunch” program, for which she was honored with the Missoula Cultural Council’s Cultural Achievement Award. Pat served on the boards of Very Special Arts and Hellgate Writers, was a member of the Missoula Police Commission, and worked on the UM Foundation Business Drive, Leadership Missoula, and the United Way Citizens Review Committee. She received a Montana Alumni Award for her active roles in UM’s Excellence Fund Drive, the Music Scholarship Benefit, Carousel for Missoula and the Missoula Symphony. Alongside Don, Pat served on the Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Friends of Flagship board, the Mo-Trans/Headwaters Dance Company board, and the organizing committee for the University Community Ice Cream Social, and was honored by the New Leaders Council and recognized as a “Rockstar” by Forward Montana.
Our beloved Mom/Grammy/Pat was overjoyed to be part of the family’s “Summer of Love” in 2013, attending the high school graduation of grandson Liam, and the weddings of granddaughters Emma and Zoe. “Family” was an inclusive ideal for Pat, and many people took comfort in her when their own families were distant or gone. She was always ready with a hug, a kiss and her undivided attention. Pat and Don were known as “Mom and Doc” by UM music students, and as “Missoula’s grandparents” by the young progressives they admired who worked in politics and nonprofits. She advocated for children and the vulnerable, and was a beloved friend and mentor, a storyteller and sounding board, and an inspiration, convincing young friends that it is possible to “continue to fight the good fight for a lifetime.”
Pat loved her friends at the Lynnwood, watching the Griz and the Osprey, and recitals at the School of Music, where she felt like she was “going home.” She delighted in seeing young people do the things they love, and often reminded the not-so-young, “If you ever get to thinking you’ve grown up, it will mean you’ve stopped growing.”
Pat is survived by her daughter Elizabeth Simmons-O’Neill, who teaches community literacy courses at the University of Washington, Elizabeth’s husband John O’Neill, and their children Emma O’Neill-Myers (Charlie), Zoe Reese (Dave) and Liam of Seattle; son Kim “JK” Simmons, an actor who lives in Los Angeles with his wife Michelle Schumacher and their children, Joe and Olivia; and son David Simmons, a musician, teacher and theater professional who lives with his wife Marilyn Rice in Phoenix, and David’s son Niko Simmons of St. Paul, Minn.
Pat was preceded in death by her parents and brothers Dave and Ted, and is also survived by her brother and sister-in-law Dan and Reeva Kimble; sister-in-law Kathryn Jensen; and nieces and nephews, Peter and Brenda Kimble, Chris and Pat Kimble, Kathleen Kimble and Bill Fleischman, Patsy Kimble Brunner and Bill Brunner, Tony and Laura Kimble, Kimble and Mickey Niland, Matthew Kimble and Mary Taylor, Evan and Lael Kimble, Sara Kimble and Lars Petersen, Karen Ferguson, Ken and Cindy Johnson, Greg and Connie Jensen, Ron “Weed” Jensen, Susan and Bill Dehority; and the children and grandchildren of her nieces and nephews.
A Community Celebration of the Life of Pat Simmons will be held Saturday, April 19, at noon in the UM Music Recital Hall. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Don Simmons Music Education Scholarship at UM, United Way of Missoula County or the Poverello Center.