Greenwich remembers Sims as a ‘soft spoken pioneer’

Former Greenwich First Selectman Ruth Sims, the first woman to ever hold that office, has died.

Ms. Sims, who served two terms as Greenwich’s top elected official from 1977 through 1981, was 92 at the time of her death on June 7. Ms. Sims is someone who made history with her 1977 election, becoming the first female first selectman in the town. In doing so she bucked the trend of the town’s politics as well, getting elected twice as a Democrat in a very heavily Republican town.

In fact, when Ms. Sims was first elected, she was the first Democrat to hold the office in 75 years.

Ms. Sims and her family lived in Riverside for close to 50 years after moving there in 1953. She quickly got involved with the town on the issues of the day, serving as president of the Greenwich League of Women Voters and then as president of the state’s league in 1968. She became the first full-time first selectman in town after a charter change redefined the position. Her election in 1977 was even more notable since it ended in a tie, causing the courts to intervene. A second election was then mandated by the court and Ms. Sims won and was re-elected by a far larger margin in 1979 before declining to run for a third term in 1981.

Ms. Sims’ daughter Jennifer told the Post this week that what always stood out about her mother was her principles.

“She was a principled person with a lot of love,” Jennifer Sims said. “She was in many ways a classic New England lady. She worked hard and was very strong and stoic. She came from a strong matriarchal line and she tried to leave the world a better place for her having been here.”

Jennifer said her mother raised her and her brothers and sisters to have that kind of strength along with a commitment to public service. She added that they were taught to work hard and have the same high principles, serving as a role model both in her public life and at home.

“She once told me after she won that squeaker of a first election that it was important to be graceful, welcoming to the other party and inclusive,” Jennifer said. “She was not a firebrand. She had strong Democratic views but her cause was never partisan. It was to do the best for the community.”

First Selectman Peter Tesei released a statement of condolence on Friday expressing the town’s sympathies to the Sims family and noting the historic nature of Ms. Sims’ election. Flags were lowered to half- mast and a condolence book was put in the Town Hall foyer for people to leave messages for the family.

In an interview with the Post on Friday, Mr. Tesei said that Ms. Sims was “… clearly someone who made a lasting impression on the town and paved the way for others.”

Mr. Tesei recalled meeting Ms. Sims as a boy when his family would go to pick up his father, a town employee, from the old Town Hall. He said there was a voting machine in the lobby that he loved to play with and that he encountered the then first selectman while doing it.

“She was a person with great poise and distinction,” Mr. Tesei said. “She was a soft-spoken pioneer. She was active in the community and on town boards and commissions and was a true advocate for good government.”

Frank Farricker, chairman of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee, said her loss is felt throughout town not just by her fellow Democrats.

“Ruth Sims represented the transition between old Greenwich and modern times,” Mr. Farricker said in a statement to the Post. “When a woman and a Democrat can be elected in a town such as ours, and become arguably the best first selectman in our history, it started a positive change that continues today. Ruth Sims embodied all that is right and good about Greenwich and the Democratic Party and her legacy is strong even today.”

Nancy Brown, a close friend and political ally of Ms. Sims, told the Post that she was able to set an example for women in the community no matter whether they were Democrats or Republicans. While known for being a gentle, kind person, Ms. Sims was also a fighter, which Ms. Brown said was clear when she fought for every vote in the 1977 election.

“When she knew she was right about something she was always willing to fight for it,” Ms. Brown said. “She didn’t get hysterical about things. She approached them with a quiet determination and was always confident that the facts would come out. … She set an enormous example. She showed that you could be that kind of leader and it wasn’t reserved just for men. She showed a woman could go toe to toe in dealing with the problems in town that needed to be resolved.”

Ms. Brown remembered all the work Ms. Sims did on issues like affordable housing and the town’s Senior Center, which was made out of the old Town Hall, and how she did it in a way that was inclusive of the community. She said there was a time when designs were being chosen for the Town Hall annex and Ms. Sims invited all the members of the Representative Town Meeting to view the architectural models and have their voices heard before a choice was made.

Ms. Brown added that Ms. Sims was able to set a standard for balancing being a parent with being involved in the community while also “taking on the premier political leadership role in town.”

Former First Selectman Rebecca Breed served as a Republican selectman from 1979 to 1981 with Ms. Sims and said she believed she could have run for a third term and won had there not been a severe drought that year that put the town in an anti-incumbent mood. She credited Ms. Sims for her intelligence and her dedication to the town. Ms. Breed said until she ran for first selectman and won in 1981 she hadn’t seen the kind of sexism and “chauvinistic feelings” that Ms. Sims had to overcome and that after her own election she appreciated what a trailblazer she had been.

“I take off my hat to her,” Ms. Breed told the Post. “I have nothing but good things to say about her and I’ve always said that if we’d been in the same party we’d have really gotten along famously.”

Ms. Sims’ contributions went beyond politics. State Rep. Livvy Floren, a friend, said that while her family moved to town after her tenure as first selectman, she got to know her through her work with the League of Women Voters and the Bruce Museum, where Ms. Sims served as chairman.

“I always felt she was a statesman, not a politician, and I liked her very, very much,” Ms. Floren said. “I really admired her and she was such an important part of the fabric of this community.”

Jennifer told the Post that her mother’s example wasn’t just a political one. She said she also showed the importance of family. After her second term ended in 1981 and she didn’t run for a third, Ms. Sims had the opportunity to run for state and even national office, her daughter said, but instead she chose to spend more time with her family and enjoy a hard-earned retirement while still working diligently in the community. She said her mother showed that family came first and how best to strike that balance between making a better world through public service while never forgetting the importance of family.

“The world can’t be a better place if you neglect your family,” Jennifer said.

Ms. Brown said she would always remember how sharp and to the point her friend was. She remarked that while Ms. Sims was always easy to work with, you had to come in knowing what you were talking about because she was always prepared with the facts.

“She didn’t show off, though,” Ms. Brown said. “She was gentle in her approach to things but you couldn’t put anything past her. I think she showed a lot of women that if you’re willing to get involved and fight for what you believe in that you can be just as smart and capable as any male and you can prevail.”

[email protected]

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© Hersam Acorn. All rights reserved. The Greenwich Post, 10 Corbin Drive, Floor 3, Darien, CT 06820

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress