Statesboro residents remembered a man who "fought for what is right" and was a voice for equality as they recalled the life of Donnell "Donnie" Simmons, 67, who died Dec. 9 at Ogeechee Area Hospice from an extended illness.
Simmons was a member of the Bulloch County Board of Education for 10 years, but was most noted for his work with the Bulloch County Chapter of the NAACP, of which he was president for eight years. Simmons worked with the Bulloch County Commission and Statesboro City Council on making the community better while promoting equality for all races. He was also an advocate for children, friends said.
"I've known Donnie for a long time," said Dr. Charles Bonds, who worked with Simmons serving on the Bulloch County Board of Education. "With Donnie, I guess I would say he was a man of integrity, a man of incomparable spirit, a man for his people ... who gave the best of his years working to improve the lives of the entire community."
"He was a very dedicated, committed person about getting things done," said Aleathea Lewis. "He worked really hard to clear a lot of unjust in this community. Even after he got sick, he went to work."
Retired from Brooks Instruments, Simmons filled his days working in NAACP issues as well as in other areas helping people.
He served on the board of trustees for Mission Outreach and was instrumental in helping people of both races, local and statewide, to become elected to political offices. He received many awards, local and statewide.
In 1998, he received the Robert B. Flanagan Award from the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP for having the greatest number of adult members. In 2001 the NAACP recognized him for exceptional service and leadership.
He made a tremendous impact working on the school board, especially in speaking on children's behalf, said former BOE chairman Al Burke.
"Looking back on Donnie Simmons' life, I saw in his last years with the board a change of attitude and approach to educating all children, black and white," he said. "In his final years, he truly was an advocate for all children."
Lewis called Simmons a mentor for children whose parents were "not there for them.
"Donnie was there for them," she said. "He was a determined person and he believed in Statesboro."
"He gave me a chance, and I appreciate that," said Dr. Jessie Strickland, Bulloch County school superintendent. "When I came to the board, we built a mutual respect for each other. "
She admired Simmons' tenacity and dedication, she said. "Mr. Simmons came to meetings in spite of feeling ill. He believed in education and in trying to help children. He was committed to serving on the board as best he could in trying times, regarding his health. He never seemed to lose his will to help children."
He was a straightforward man, said Carlos Brown, who worked with Simmons through the NAACP.
"Donnie was the type of man you didn't have to wonder where you stood with him," he said. "He would say exactly what was on his mind. He will be really missed in this community because he would stand up for what is right."
Bonds compared Simmons to Moses.
"Just as Moses led his people out of bondage, slavery and misery, and sought to bring them to a better land ... of milk and honey, so did Mr. Simmons," he said. "He fought tirelessly and most often when we were sleeping, for the rights of others here in Statesboro. He wished that we would have some of the milk and honey that the writers of the Constitution sought to give its people. He vigorously sought that we might have these rights equally as citizens."
"He was a great citizen," Lewis said. "And he believed in Statesboro."
Simmons, a native of Bulloch County, was a member of Tabernacle Baptist Church. He graduated from William James High School and attended Johnson C. Smith University.
On Jan. 15, 2006, the City of Statesboro honored Simmons by naming a street after him - “Donnie Simmons Way."