ugg fluff slippers Thousands pay tribute to Simmons
The Geauga County Fairgrounds, a place close to the heart of the late Geauga County Sheriff George R. “Red” Simmons, was a fitting venue to celebrate his life, one marked by compassion, charisma and conviction.
An estimated 2,000 mourners gathered Monday afternoon, despite dreary weather conditions, at the fairgrounds’ grandstand in Burton Township to pay tribute to Simmons, who was touted as a visionary.
Hundreds of members of the law enforcement community, public officials, friends and family took part in the ceremony that was equal parts intimate and dramatic in memory of Simmons, who had served as Geauga County’s sheriff since 1993.
Simmons, 56, of Burton Village died July 15 at Geauga Regional Hospital from complications from a blood clot in his heart.
The memorial included proud but melancholy music from the Geauga Highland Pipe and Drum Band, whose notes gracefully embodied the sadness of a community that had grown to feel safe under the faithful watch of Simmons.
The Summit County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard offered a dramatic salute to the late sheriff, who dedicated his life to law enforcement and service, with poise and precision.
The Rev. Harry Buch, pastor of Burton Congregational Church in Burton Village that Simmons attended, said he could have expounded on Simmons’ life and unwavering faith for hours.
“I could talk of the prison ministry program he helped set up or the Leprechaun Foundation he set up to grant wishes for terminally ill children,” Buch said. “But that’s not what Red would have wanted.
“He would rather have this thing finished up and have everyone head out to Blazin Bill’s for his favorite ribs, something else and lots of jokes and stories.”
The Rev. Werner Lange of Auburn Community United Church of Christ talked of Simmons’ big heart and the fire in his belly.
“He gave us that fire and that love,” Lange said. “He was a red oak of righteousness, a man with a mission and passion for life, rooted in a deep faith.
“The sheriff has died. Long live the sheriff.”
County Auditor Tracy Jemison spoke of how many viewed the strong friendship that he and the sheriff shared as unique.
He said Simmons overlooked that Jemison had married his ex wife as well as something else that for die hard Democrat Simmons was even harder.
“He somehow looked past that I was a Republican,” Jemison said.
“What we shared was a mutual love for a little boy,” Jemison said through tears, referring to Simmons’ son and Jemison’s stepson, Cameron Simmons, now 27.
Along with Cameron, Simmons is survived by his wife, Carol; son, Jonathan Chmielewski of Braceville; mother, Lucille Simmons of Burton; sisters, Linda (Jim) Russell of Newcomerstown and Karen Kolberg of Chardon; and grandchildren, Jonathan and Tiffany.
His father, Howard Simmons, is deceased.
Munson Township Trustee Mary Samide presented Carol Simmons with a resolution honoring her husband’s life and recited a Rudyard Kipling poem called “If” that she said must have been written with Simmons in mind.
Simmons, whose tenure as sheriff had more than a little controversy thrown in, fought hard personally and professionally for what he believed.
Though his battles were often for equality for the unfortunate and destitute, he is most remembered for fiercely battling a lawsuit that county commissioners filed in October 2001 to keep him within his budget. So far, both sides’ lawyers have cost the county about $962,000.
Simmons was always a newsmaker. Labor Department special agent from 1978 to 1984, Simmons helped derail an organized crime ring involving Teamsters leader Jackie Presser.
The book “Mobbed Up,” by James Neff, describes Simmons as “a sturdy, hard nosed, red haired, sometime florid faced ex DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agent.”
Former Chief Deputy Daniel C. McClelland, 50, of Claridon Township, has been sworn in as acting Geauga County Sheriff. It is expected today that the county’s Democratic party will appoint McClelland to serve Simmons’ term through 2004.
McClelland, a close friend of Simmons, has said it will be tough to fill Simmons’ shoes.
The acting sheriff will have to do so without Simmons’ faithful partner and golden retriever, Star, who was retired from active duty with the sheriff’s department K 9 unit at the memorial service.