Dr Glenda Simms — a life dedicated to excellence and service
Dr Glenda Simms devoted her life tothe upliftment of women(Photo: Observer file)

Even at the best of times life is not easy. In today's world — made much more difficult by the rampaging novel coronavirus — it's easy for individuals to throw up their hands in despair, convinced that they are in no position to make a difference.

At times like these inspirational examples become priceless.

We submit that one such is presented by the life of social activist Dr Glenda Simms, who died in Canada on New Year's Eve at age 82.

A product of the deep-rural farming community of Stanmore, close to Malvern, high up in the Santa Cruz Mountains of St Elizabeth, Dr Simms migrated to Canada as a young woman in the 1960s.

Blessed with strong will and a dominant personality, she rapidly established herself as an activist in defence of women's rights and a powerful voice for social justice rejecting discrimination of all sorts.

Her work as advisor to the Canadian Government and as volunteer activist earned Dr Simms lasting recognition in her adopted country.

Returning to Jamaica in the 1990s, she served from 1996 to 2005 as executive director of the Bureau of Women's Affairs during the P J Patterson-led People's National Party (PNP) Government, working closely with then Cabinet minister (later to become prime minister) Mrs Portia Simpson Miller.

President of the PNP Women's Movement Ms Patricia Duncan Sutherland tells us that Dr Simms “was not an academic feminist, but an active feminist, reviewing legislation with a critical gender lens, engaging in the communities and the trenches to change how men and women saw and treated each other…”

Jamaica's Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Ms Olivia Grange described Dr Simms as “a trailblazing figure in the fight for women's rights”, who, as head of the Women's Bureau, started consultations towards the development of the National Policy on Gender Equality, revitalised parish advisory committees, established the National Gender Advisory Committee, and developed public education initiatives on gender-based violence.

We are fascinated by the account of Member of Parliament (MP) for St Elizabeth South Eastern Mr Frank Witter that, back in the 1990s, while he was the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) caretaker for the constituency shadowing then MP Mr Derrick Rochester, Dr Simms reached across political and gender lines for his help in setting up a wing of the women's centre in Junction, St Elizabeth.She explained to him that her main interest was to find the best person to get the job done.

Dr Simms — a rural person to the core — threw herself into community organisation in St Elizabeth after retirement. She spearheaded resurrection of her old primary school, St Alban's, which had come close to death because of dwindling attendance. And, using her home in Malvern as a base, Dr Simms formed community outreach groups which focused particularly on encouraging and empowering young women.

Her work on projects to enable value-added production from farming and to encourage widespread contraceptive use won't be readily forgotten in Malvern and related communities.

A responder to a story in this newspaper on Dr Simms's life hailed her as “a woman of substance”. She was that and much, much more.

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