Tribute to a loving heart

Goodbye: Hundreds gathered on the Eastern Shore to honor Judith Gurine Simmons, who died hours after her husband.

January 12, 2000|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

OCEAN PINES -- Carl Barrett can still scarcely believe the awful coincidence that marked his mother's death. He's given up trying to fathom the car accident that occurred hours after his stepfather succumbed to a long illness.

Instead, Barrett is doing exactly what he knows Judith Gurine Simmons would have wanted him to do -- he's turning to hundreds of friends and colleagues who say his mother touched their lives in this Worcester County community and in nearby Ocean City.

More than 400 of them turned out yesterday at St. John Neumann Roman Catholic Church to remember the woman most of them knew as "Miss Judy."

"My mother had tremendous faith, and it was the people in her life that were important to her -- that's what I'm concentrating on," Barrett said. "Her faith, family and friends was what mattered to her and just about everyone she cared about is here."

Mrs. Simmons, 61, was killed Friday night as she drove home a couple of hours after the death of her husband, 83-year-old Lewis Tyler Simmons, at a Berlin hospital.

Mr. Simmons, a decorated World War II veteran who worked for the B&O Railroad, had suffered a series of strokes and had been bedridden for several years. He died of respiratory failure.

Around 8: 30 p.m., Mrs. Simmons' car was struck by a Chevrolet van driven by a 40-year-old Berlin man, Eric Vance Allbritton. Police have charged him with driving while intoxicated and failure to stay right of center. Results of a blood-alcohol test will not be available for about two weeks, said Maryland State Police Cpl. Krah Plunkert, who is investigating the crash.

Yesterday, family members used flowers and dozens of photographs to build a memorial to Mrs. Simmons at the Catholic church where the devout woman rarely missed a Saturday evening Mass.

After an hourlong funeral service for the couple, police stood by at a half-dozen intersections as a mile-long procession slowly made its way along Route 589, one of Worcester County's busiest roads.

Showell Elementary, where Mrs. Simmons worked as a secretary for 12 years, was closed for the day. Principal Stuart Scott knew it would be next to impossible to find substitutes because almost his entire staff wanted to attend the funeral.

Dozens of parents took the day off from their jobs to attend the joint funeral Mass for the couple.

Maria Royster attended, with her two children, Elan, 16, and Anthony, 8. Elan brought many in the congregation to tears when she sang "Ave Maria" near the end of the service.

"She was such a loving person; you'd always see her hugging the kids," Royster said. "It was as if they were all her kids."

Nearly 200 people went to Showell Volunteer Fire Department for a luncheon-reception after burial at a Berlin cemetery.

"This would be just the kind of thing Judy would have jumped right in and organized if it had happened to someone else," said Judy Widgeon, another secretary at the elementary school.

For regulars at the Satellite Coffee Shop in Ocean City, where Mrs. Simmons worked during the summer months for 13 years, she is remembered as something of a stand-in mother to a generation of surfers, lifeguards and others who made the beach their home.

Patrick "Scunny" McCusker spent 14 summers there, many running a beach rental stand on the boardwalk in front of the Satellite. Now operating his own restaurant -- Nacho Mama's in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood -- he drove down yesterday with his wife and 10-month-old daughter.

"I know I can speak for every lifeguard, every beachstand guy or just about every guy who's lived at the beach," said McCusker. "You work hard, you play hard and you may not want to admit it, but every now and then you need a surrogate mother. That was Miss Judy."

Jimmy Podowski, who owns the Satellite with his mother, Audrey, said most of the dozen or so full-time workers who staff the coffee shop during the April to October season have worked there for at least a decade.

"The Satellite is a unique kind of place, almost a family, and Miss Judy was a big part of that," Podowski said. "Out of the thousands of people you might meet in a lifetime, Miss Judy was someone you'd never forget."

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