Remembering Bill Simmons

Our Friend and Fellow Trustee

June 2018

Bill Simmons joined the Providence Public Library Corporation in 2004, became a Trustee of the Board in 2005 and served the Library until his passing this June. He quickly took on an officer role and ultimately chaired the Board from 2008 until 2012. Through his strong vision and steady guidance, he saw the Library through a historic time of change.

At one time, Bill shared his interest and vision of libraries as instrumental to lifelong learning for all. He envisioned robust and enduring partnerships with community organizations and particularly places of higher education as a way to harness and achieve greater educational impact in our community.

As a tribute to Bill and his service to our community, we offer these remembrances from PPL friends and colleagues.

Bill Simmons, a fellow traveler

I first met Bill when he was a big man at Classical High School — a star athlete with letters in three sports — and I a lowly underclassman.
Notably, his demeanor towards me and others was warm and welcoming, with none of the noblesse oblige’ a Big Man On Campus can have. He attended practice to better his speed as a runner as did I; he was not there as a superior but as a fellow traveler in that mission. In that attitude I can discern the makings of the anthropologist he became; someone who marveled at humans coming together to form community and seek the betterment of its members.

Later, Bill returned to Brown after being at Cal-Berkeley for some thirty years as an anthropologist. I reconnected with him and he soon asked me to join the Board at the PPL. In his working style at PPL, I saw more clearly his approach to life. We were individuals working as fellow travelers to buttress an institution — the PPL — that we knew was essential to an educated society.

Guy Lombardo
PPL Trustee

Bill Simmons was a man of extraordinary intellect, compassion, and depth

Howard and I always looked forward to his company and to his clear thoughts and keen insight. More than that, Bill was a caring, loyal friend who made the long trek down to Hopkinton to visit Howard when Howard was too ill to make it to Providence for their usual “office hours” at Seven Stars Bakery — where, together, they solved all the world’s problems.

Michelle Walker

Bill — a quiet fellow of keen intellect and sparkling humor

He was ever the thoughtful listener and laser focused in his summation of a situation and the wisest course for the Library to pursue in order to honor its mission of a private library delivering robust library service in our community.

From the traditional blue blazer to the sturdy and stunning cowboy boots, Bill was genuine top to bottom. He will always be a pillar in the history of the Providence Public Library.

Mary B. Olenn
PPL Trustee Emeritus

Above all — Bill was a kind and gentle man

Bill returned to Providence from the West in the 1990s and immediately immersed himself in the community with a focus on incorporating his love of all things educational. He actively worked to improve the function of a wide range of community organizations. He was a vigorous champion of the Providence Public Library and exercised a steadfast resolve through times of great change, always maintaining the highest ideals of library service to the community.

Bill was sharp to the end. He engaged family, friend, and colleagues with lively stories.  He had a unique ability to engage people of all ages, backgrounds, and interests.

Dale Thompson
Retired PPL Library Director

Bill's contributions to the people of Providence will have a lasting benefit

Although it has been several years since Bill and I served the PPL together, our paths would occasionally cross in town. Bill's recognition was consistent, with a thoughtful and welcoming manner and always a kind word.

Bill’s PPL corporate legacy is well recorded. In addition to navigating the physical and program growth of the Library, Bill let the trustees with a calming voice and a professional demeanor. His contributions to the people of Providence will have a lasting benefit.

While our paths will no longer cross, whenever I think of Bill it will always be accompanied by a smile with an uplifted spirit.

Jim Nagle
Former PPL Trustee

Bill was a gentleman and one to be admired

I was at Classical High School when Bill was there. An upperclassman, Bill was one to be admired for his confident, reserved demeanor, athletic prowess and scholarship. What a treat and honor for me to meet up with him some years later at the Library Board. Now, all Bill’s wonderful attributes I saw in those early years were realized in his many successes. A gentleman always and one to be admired.

Dr. Ed Iannuccilli
Former PPL Trustee

Bill Simmons’ life was that of a top-notch scholar, administrator, and gentleman

I met Bill through our mutual participation on the track team at Classical High School. Even then, he had an acute interest in anthropology, and was spending weekends seeking out arrowheads and other evidence of native American life. His life fulfilled the promise embedded in the Brown University charter; he was overwhelmingly and “duly qualify’d for discharging the Offices of Life with usefulness and reputation...”

David Bender

I’m proud to have called Bill Simmons a lifelong, best friend

I’m proud to have called Bill Simmons a lifelong, best friend…beginning from the days we competed against each other in track when he ran for Classical and I for Hope High School. We eventually ran our separate ways, but we reunited and renewed our strong friendship when he returned to Providence from California and joined me as the first Vice President of the Providence NAACP, when I was President.

I’m happy to say we stayed very close over the years, speaking or texting often, going to lunch, and spending time together until the end. Bill was very unassuming…I don’t think anyone ever knew him completely…he had so many faces, and all who knew him saw different sides. He was never one to brag, but he did so much for so many in our community, particularly the Narragansett Indian tribe.

Cliff Montiero
Providence NAACP past president

Bill was a true Renaissance Man who embodied all the learning, spirit, and values that we hope to see in the modern library

Professor Bill Simmons was a wonderful man and the principal reason why I first became involved with the Library. Bill and I were fellow board members at the Rhode Island Historical Society and he asked me to consider joining the Library’s Foundation Board. I so respected Bill that I eventually joined the Board and became a Conservator of the Library. Bill was a true Renaissance Man who embodied all the learning, spirit, and values that we hope to see in the modern library. He will be missed.

Robert Flanders
Former PPL Foundation Trustee