Asante Sana, New Ancestor Judy Dothard Simmons

My friend and mentor Judy Dothard Simmons died over the weekend. She was a good person who happened to be a great writer. A poet, she was a pioneer of Black news-talk radio (New York’s WLIB-AM) and national magazine journalism (Essence, Ms. ).

I thought I’d share a couple of her (group) emails from last year. They say a lot about her.


From: “Judy Simmons” <>
To: “Judy Simmons” <>
Date: Sat, 12 Aug 2006 09:40:42 -0500

Dear Elisha,

It’s Saturday again. The week has flown by since you stopped here and graciously brought the Noni juice. I’m so glad you did that. It not only restored my basic support to me, but it also warms my heart that you are generous and understanding in your wonderful way.

I have decided not to have a laparoscopy. The second thing Dr. Huh said after introducing himself was that he didn’t want to do surgery on me because I would probably die on the table. Only one person, a doctor in Anniston who had never examined me before, raised the specter of ovarian cancer. That set everything rocketing off like crazy.

Then I arrive at UAB and nobody can see through the calcified fibroid tissue all over the place to discern where the womb is, what shape it’s in, or what kind of tissue the “mass” is. This takes us through cat scan, cat scan with liquid (not the dye, something else for contrast); vaginal echo, and ultimately MRI, which was supposed to give the one true answer for where to insert for a needle biopsy.

No dice.

Meanwhile, when they finally take of a couple of liters of fluid, within thirty minutes I have a fully formed stool, which hadn’t happened for a month.

The fluid that was removed does not seem to be coming back, and my bowel (with colace) is working two or three times a day. I have no pain, and my breathing is not labored. I do not have cancer.

Why go looking for a disease I show little sign of instead of looking at the disease I clearly have—congestive heart failure—which is known to produce fluid and symptoms of the sort I’m displaying? So, since surgery is surgery, laparoscopic or otherwise, and the doctor said in my hearing that maybe he could get in and out in 15 minutes and that wouldn’t be so bad, cutting me (invading the envelope) seems more of a risk than the possible diagnosis is worth.

Bear in mind that any mass, cancerous or not-cancerous, would sooner or later require surgery to remove, and it was made clear to me that no responsible practitioners are going to put me under general anesthetic and do the two- to four-hour (or more) operation to remove mass.

Who’s to say that where he goes in for the laparoscopy is going to be any more productive of non-fibroid tissue than all the other tests that showed him he can’t see what’s there anyway?

He talked about needing to find an anesthesiologist who was willing to take a chance on a heart in the shape mine is in, even for a spinal and sedation.

He said that even if it were cancer and he treated it with chemo first, it would eventually boil down to needing surgery and that isn’t an option.

So, basically, I would be submitting to a life-threatening procedure so the doctors can be certain about something that can only degrade the quality of my life by causing me risk, discomfort, and a healing procedure that, right now, my body is telling me in no uncertain terms that it is not up to. And since this good body has always risen to the occasion, no matter how I’ve jeopardized and neglected it, I’m listening now that it says, “Judy, I just can’t make this one. It’s asking too much.”

My Anniston cardiologist had a full-fledged two-year-old temper tantrum yesterday because I told him I would not get a pacemaker (for the ninth or tenth time; by the way, the UAB teaching hospital flower-of-the-south medical-center cardiology gods said a pacemaker would do me no earthly good, as I suspected). Then my cardiology said he didn’t think I had cancer—which is why I was sent to UAB oncology on the say so of a gynecology who had never examined before he stuck is finger into me in the hospital bed and opined with deep seriousness that I really, really, probably had ovarian cancer.

The cardiology told me yesterday he thought the fluid in my abdomen was consequent to right-side heart failure, but he refused to treat me for that unless I had a laparoscopy (which would never have occurred to him if this other guy hadn’t raised the cancer issue).

So, my cardiologist turned me back over to my primary care physician and refused to give me the benefit of his cardiology expertise on how to manage the excess fluid
collecting in the abdomen from diuretics and heart failure. There are medical manipulations he can do—he told me that—but unless I consent to a tissue diagnosis (which, again, we have no guarantee they will get, all other tests having shown no markers for cancer, he won’t help me any further.

There was more stuff he vented which showed he thinks he has made me live, and that I have had no part in making decisions that resulted in his being able to help me, and preventing him from injuring me.

I grasped his hand in a shake and told him I was grateful to him for his help. Badtemperedly, he shook off my hand and snapped, “Don’t be grateful to me.” I took hold of his hand again, said again that I am grateful to him, and he basically threw me out of his office.

I’m listening to the fine classical jazz collection I’ve amassed over the years, putting my affairs in order, loving my dog and my friends, and generally having a good time for the first time in fifteen or twenty years. I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death and feeling damn good about it. I fear no evil, for I AM always and ever living.

So, for more info, call.


From: “Judy Simmons” <>
To: “Judy Simmons” <>
Date: Mon, 4 Sep 2006 17:53:33 -0500

Sixty-two doesn’t feel the same as thirty-three, and I think folks who say it does are lying. These great Indian seers who don’t breathe earthly air and put on and take off bodies like togas—I guess I’m ain’t one uh them. Also I just figured out that some of the unaccustomed sensations I have been thinking are ill health are signs of a body used for six decades.

I’m sittin’ up here in the house following the U.S. Tennis Open on tv. I listen to these people rattle on—the anchors, pundits, and hosts—and I’m torn between shooting them all with my high-vibration consciousness death ray or plunging back down to the depths where they don’t swim, sharks though they are. The death ray hasn’t worked so far, and being under water has its own drawbacks.

So, here I am, missing my radio show after twenty years, and without any media outlet for my spleen. I really liked being on WLIB AM, NY when it started the news-talk format in the 1980s. Then Philippe Wamba, the chief editor who made an engaging web stop, put up with me from 2000-2002. He hired me as staff writer, editor, columnist, and insecure egotist. We both found out I was too old a dog (mid-40s) to do any corporation’s stupid pet tricks. He was kind, and kept me going for two years until he left and died some months later in an automobile accident in an African country. (If it were Europe, I would know it matters which country things happen in, but since it’s the Dark Continent, it’s all the same.)

Okay, so clearly I don’t have enough social life here, so when I want to party or converse, I’m just realizing, I send off one of these mass mailings. I figure the delete key is handy enough, so you shouldn’t get too annoyed, and a few people tell me they like getting what I write. For me, I’m realizing, it’s doing my radio show, which was very extemporaneous. It’s whatever it is that makes me need to be a public communicator (writer, broadcaster, contributor of information and sometimes knowledge).

Why don’t I do a blog? Because I don’t expect people to come to me. I have to be where they can catch my drift, as it were. And besides, this is personal in an immediate way. Feedback comes quickly as people are moved to give some—it’s not required—and I imagine how some of you look while reading this. It keeps me off the streets, and it’s about all the effort I’m up to giving.

And, I’m developing my communications skills. Language keeps changing. Plus, as I enlarge my understanding of how we people operate, I keep an ear out for the rhythm, cadence, and tones of the times. It’s about the gestalt. The way images move nowadays has so much to do with what people see and hear. When I was in psych school back in the day—(I could have said “school a million years ago”) but I think the “back” phrase has a more satisfying crunch; what do you think?)—anyway, when I took psych we talked about gestalt. As I understood it, it meant getting a whole picture that’s more than the separate pixels, stimuli, responses, actions, and so forth put together like a jigsaw puzzle. The individual pieces say “sky,” “grass,” “cloak,” or whatever, but the whole picture calls out emotional, aesthetic, and intellectual responses that are more than cardboard interlocking on a table.

Another question people ask me is why didn’t I stay in media and become an internationally famous personality. Well, seldom is one allowed to do such things on one’s own terms, and refuse to or can’t do them on any other.

So, those are some of my reflections this day. I didn’t rave on about how I can’t stand the most of what’s going on in our culture, given that the sole raison d’etre for much of it is the mindless and soulless pursuit of material wealth. There’s a difference between being the master of money and the servant of it. Guess which most us are.

Love, Judy

May 10 UPDATE: Here’s the official death announcement.

Judy Dothard Simmons

Judy Dothard Simmons, a noted poet, journalist, author and broadcaster, died on Sunday, May 6 in Anniston, Alabama from heart complications.

Since the 1970s, Judy’s thought-provoking writings and broadcasts had won her national acclaim. She had been a senior editor at Essence and Ms. magazines. Also, she had been managing editor for the NAACP’s Crisis magazine, a columnist for Harvard University/Time Warner’s, and an editor at Black Enterprise. During the early 1980s Judy had a popular radio talk show on New York’s first Black commercial talk station WLIB and also on Pacifica’s WBAI. Her articles had appeared in The Village Voice, American Legacy Woman, and others. Also, she had been a guest on Donahue.

During the 1990s, Judy returned to Alabama and was a columnist for The Anniston Star. A celebrated poet, she was a Revson Fellow at Columbia University and did graduate work in poetry. Judy was the author of several books of poetry and essays including Decent Intentions, Judith’s Blues, and A Light in the Dark. She was also a contributor to the book Wild Women Don’t Wear No Blues. Her vibrant voice will be sorely missed.

Arrangements are being handled by Ervine Funeral Home in Anniston, Ala.: (256) 237-1717.

17 responses to “Asante Sana, New Ancestor Judy Dothard Simmons

  1. “Whose wonderful body is that on the cover of your book “Decent Intentions” I asked Judy in 1983 when the book first appeared, but she wouldn’t say. i had known her from appearing on her radio show and from appearing together in Blind Beggar press anthologies. Later she published me in Essence’s “Say Brother”section and always told me that she loved my writing style. I moved south in ’89 and she sometimes during the 90s. In 2002 I sent a book I had published. she called me and said that she love my writing style, but she didn’t like the book. I asked her if I could come and wait on her -hand and foot – she was cool to the idea, but loved that I loved her. and when Baraka’s girl died we talked about it, she said call him. I didn’t. then I let too much time let between us saying hello and just today I fine that this fine lady has gone to rest and i look at the cover of her book and say Judy I know that’s you. But that’s not why I love you so.

  2. To whomever this concerns,
    I was saddened to learn of the death of Judy Simmons. I don’t even know how old she was.
    She died, coincidentally enough, on my birthday of May 6th.
    I had heard her a few times on WLIB. I’m a White person, and have had almost nothing but contempt for the so-called Struggle against Racism, (with few and far-between exceptions here and there) of which that station was part and parcel, but still, she seemed like a nice-enough person. I was rather rigid at the time, in expressing myself (a result of my extreme reaction to the above-named), and left her with the impression that it had been better off that we (as individuals) had not met. I was actually referring, at the time, to the races, and not the two of us, but we got off on the wrong foot, to put it mildly. Even THAT perspective doesn’t come close to representing my attitude(s) towards integration, which is rather complex. It is truly a “mixed bag”, and my views are a bit too complex to be gone into in any great detail now. I did try to clarify my views with her some time afterwards, but she was soon due to go on stage for some stint, and she was not particularly receptive towards me. I wish I had gotten another opportunity, so that at least, she would know “where I was coming from”, but unfortunately, now, that is (to use another cliche) “water under the bridge”. By the way, somehow her name just popped into my head today, and I decided to do a google for “judy Simmons WLIB” and I learned of her death that way, though I’m far from being especially psychuc.
    Yours truly,

  3. Judy I remember when we were riding in your car and we came to a dead stop and it was the end of the road. I remember we laughed.I can hear the laughter still.

  4. Judy, I loved you, but in the last year of your life I wasn’t there for you. I was consumed with my own life’s drama. And your amazingly brilliant yet acid tongue had wounded me, making me retreat from you. But I always meant for us to reconnect. We met in college. We sang together in summer stock in Amador County, California. We helped form SNCC at Sacramento State together. We loved the same man. You were black, me white. I went to LA. You to New York. We came back together a few memorable times between 1966 and 1995. But we remained in each other’s hearts. Then in 1995, while you were in Anniston taking care of your mother with Altzheimers we reconnected. But only on the phone with monthly, sometimes more, long and delightful talks that fed my soul, and I believe yours. You were more important to me than I think you ever realized. Now, it is Nov. 9, 2008. Six days ago the first black president of the United States of American was elected. I needed to talk to you. To celebrate with you. To say, look girl, it happened. All our work. All our care and belief has paid off. But you weren’t there. Your phone was disconnected. I called another J. Simmons in Anniston, and a perfect stranger said, “Oh, yes, I read it in the paper. She died. I didn’t know her, but she seemed like a wonderful person.” And all I could say, was that, yes, she was a wonderful person. I got off the phone and cried for the loss of my friend, for the missed opportunity to share this miraculous moment, and for my own weakness that kept me from you during the final year of your life. But when the tears subsided, I remembered our deep spiritual connection, and I could feel your love, and hear you saying with that sly smile, “Oh, Barbara, my sister, you always make such a drama out of things.” So, my dear sister, Judy Dothard Simmons, I love you. I know you are dazzling them up there on the higher planes with your brilliance, beauty, and talent, and I just want to say, keep the faith, baby. We did. And look where our world is. A black president, my friend. And you and your magnificent voice helped put him there.

  5. Barbara, I’d give away all of my 1960s Fantastic Four comicbooks to read a JDS essay on President-Elect Obama. We’ll just have to listen closely for what her spirit might be saying in the wind, or late at night.

  6. Judy was my first real mentor. I first listened to her when she was on WBAI late on Tuesday nights. Then, she moved to early mornings, and then she was on WLIB. We became friends although she was almost two decades older. She taught me a lot. I still have my autographed copy of “Decent Intentions.” She gave me 10 dollars for Christmas in 1982. We went together to see Whoopi Goldberg on Broadway in 1984, and Judy introduced me to Audre Lorde, who happened to be there on the same night. She tracked me down in 1999 through a mutual friend after I moved to New Jersey. I think that was our last actual conversation, but she meant more to me than she ever knew. She was no-nonsense, and she helped me grow up and mature as a writer. I will never forget her influence.

    Rebecca Williams, Plainfield, New Jersey

    • Greetings Rebecca. I am from Plainfield too. I was just listening to the recording of Judy Simmons interviewing Audre Lorde. Was that you who called in to ask about their poetic influences.
      Belated condolences. I don’t know if you will see this. But if that was your voice, it was beautiful to hear.

  7. Y’know, Rebecca, the interesting thing about my relationship with Judy was that I never “met” her. We were long-distance phone friends. But she was powerful. I bet it was great to hang out with her!

  8. I met Judy over the air about a year before we met in person. I was a high school student up late at night, and she had a radio show on WBAI. I would call in on occasion, and then one morning, after she had moved to early mornings, I called in to chat about music. My late father was a jazz musician, and he had been a guest on Lenny Lopate’s WBAI show. Judy said, “Well, maybe your dad can be on my show, too, Rebecca.” I was surprised that she knew my name, as I think I had mentioned it maybe once before, by accident (I liked my anonymity on the radio). I was very flattered, though. She told me to call her when she got off the air, and I did. My dad never ended up being on the show, as it turned out, but Judy and I became friends. She invited me for lunch after the show one day. I would call in to the show about once a week and discuss the latest political/cultural/whatever that was on my mind. I was also trying to be a writer, and Judy was so important to me, as I didn’t know any “real” writers, and certainly didn’t know anyone who took me seriously as a young wannabe. I really appreciated that. As I said, I lost touch with her for several years, but I had been thinking about her a lot. On about May 12, 2007, I was web-surfing and decided to google her name to try to get her phone number/address, which I had lost. In my search, I found her obit–she had passed a few days earlier. I think I cried for over an hour. Judy helped shape me as much as anybody, and I owe her a great deal. When I feel able to, I will write an essay on her. For now, though, I am inconsolable.

  9. I’m speechless!!! I discovered Judy Simmons on WLIB 1190 in NYC in the early 80’s. I fell in LOVE!!! This woman became my “SHERO!!!” I was looking at the news an Pablo Guzman was on. He made me think of Judy!! I googled her name and……I’m still in shock!! My heart is HEAVY!! R.I.P. Judy!!!! I’ve missed U before but always hoped I see U again!!! I’ll never forget what U taught me. PEACE!!

  10. This has been a week of revelation. My Name is Maxine Hines, I’m retired and now live in California, but, I consider New York as my home. I was cleaning out an old box today, and came across an old cassette tape of Rose Morgan and myself from a 1981 New York Radio Show (WLIB) The Judy Simmons Show . The subject was “ Women’s Attitude/Money. I had forgotten all about that show, but as my mother would say.. God works in mysterious ways. Although the tape was incomplete, and parts of it was garbled, the message/lesson/wisdom still comes across. I’m working now to create a DVD from it. Wow, it’s hard to believe that was almost 30 years ago. May God bless Judy Simmons and Rose Morgan. Through researching the internet, this week, I learn that they are both now deceased. What remarkable woman. I was blessed to have met them both. Thank you for having a web-site where this type of information can be obtain.

  11. Pingback: Asante Sana, Amiri Baraka (3 of 3) | Drums in the Global Village

  12. Greetings Rebecca. I am from Plainfield too. I was just listening to the recording of Judy Simmons interviewing Audre Lorde. Was that you who called in to ask about their poetic influences.
    Belated condolences. I don’t know if you will see this. But if that was your voice, it was beautiful to hear.

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