Brant Oliver Simms Sr., 98, builder, ran crab house

August 26, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Brant Oliver Simms Sr., a retired home builder who was never seen without a white shirt and tie even when he was plastering a house, died Aug. 19 at Kent & Queen Anne's Hospital in Chestertown of complications from a stroke and a fall. The Rock Hall resident was 98.

Born in Perry Hall, he started working with his father and brother at the local sawmill owned by his grandfather when he was 9 years old, said his daughter, Helen Burton, with whom he resided in Rock Hall.

She said her father, who left school after fourth grade, was responsible for keeping the boiler going in the steam engine that powered the saws.

He cultivated his trademark dapper style at a young age. When he was 10, Mrs. Burton said, he was given a 10-cent tie by his grandmother. After that, Mr. Simms was hardly ever seen without a white shirt and tie - whether he was pouring cement or, later, laying down and retrieving crab traps. His favorites were striped dark blue-and-green Christian Dior ties.

At that young age, he developed another lifelong love - the mandolin.

"His brother gave him a mandolin he found on the road about 86 years ago," Mrs. Burton said. "He used it to woo my mother with `Let Me Call You Sweetheart.'" Mr. Simms married Helen Gabler in 1930. She died in 1995.

Mr. Simms struck out on his own when he was 18, learning carpentry, then plaster- and cement-finishing, which was to become his life's work. He built at least 15 homes on Hines Road, some of which he and his family lived in.

The only break in that work occurred during World War II, when he and his family spent three years running Gabler's Shore restaurant, a popular crab house in Perryman. His daughter remembered Guy Lombardo as a frequent visitor in his yacht and Julia Child sending someone down for crabs.

After the war, he became an independent contractor, building homes until he retired in 1961.

"Even though he retired from his job, he never retired from life," said his son-in-law, the Rev. Albert C. Burton. "If you put a roof up at the age of 82, I don't think you're retired."

Mrs. Burton said Mr. Simms was planning his centennial birthday celebration. He was a big Orioles and Ravens fan, and also liked to play games.

"You couldn't beat him at checkers. He knew all the tricks," Mrs. Burton said.

Services were held Friday.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, Brant Simms Jr. of Middle River; a grandson; and four great-grandsons.

Donations may be made to the Youth Program of Rock Hall Methodist Charge or Perry Hall United Methodist Church, both c/o Brant Simms Memorials, P.O. Box 13, Rock Hall 21661.

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