Family, friends share memories of Sims’ impact

While crediting her as a trailblazer in Greenwich politics, the friends and loved ones of former First Selectman Ruth Sims were quick to remind everyone that her contributions were not limited to Town Hall.

In fact the location of the memorial service for Ms. Sims, who died on June 7 at the age of 92, at the Bruce Museum was very appropriate. As a longtime member of the museum’s board she is credited with helping to bring it to its current prominence through her hard volunteer work and establishment of a foundation for it, another accomplishment on a resume that included fighting for senior and affordable housing, establishing the Transportation Association of Greenwich to help get seniors where they need to go, setting up the Senior Center and Greenwich Arts Center, closing and ending the pollution of the Cos Cob Power Plant and, of course, becoming not only the first full-time first selectman in town, but the first woman to ever hold Greenwich’s highest elected office.

The service attracted close to 100 people, many of whom served on town boards and commissions either during Ms. Sims’ four years in office from 1977 to 1981 or directly after, showing the impact she had on their lives. Several former first selectmen and selectmen attended as well, including Roger Pearson, who was a friend and close political ally of Ms. Sims. During emotional remarks, Mr. Pearson recalled Ms. Sims first election, which was so close that a judge declared it a tie and ordered a revote she won by a more comfortable margin, and how her first act in office was to ask to be sworn in by a Republican, setting a tone for bi-partisanship that she kept throughout her time in office.

“She was and forever remains a true exemplar of why Greenwich is perceived as probably the best example of a smoothly functioning bi-partisan effort despite the insistence that participants pledge allegiance to one party or another,” Mr. Pearson said. “If only our federal legislature could function as capably.”

Thinking back to the impact she had and the work that was accomplished during her tenure for the good of the community, Mr. Pearson summed up by thanking her for giving his life meaning and purpose, saying, “Didn’t we have a grand time.”

The current selectmen were all in attendance. First Selectman Peter Tesei called her a pioneer, not only for being the first woman elected to the office but for being the first full-time first selectman, a change in the town charter that has led to the kind of chief executive the town has today. Selectman Drew Marzullo said she will be “celebrated as a powerful woman and an icon in Democratic politics” as her memory lives on and Selectman David Theis offered a more personal remembrance of her.

Mr. Theis was friends with Ms. Sims late daughter Marjorie JoAnn, better known as Jody, and recalled how the two even went on a few dates together. He said the conversations he had with Ms. Sims when he would go to pick her daughter up where she would ask him his opinion on world events and what was going on in the community helped instill in him a desire to be involved and informed that led to his own election to office decades later.

Friends recalled what a trailblazer Ms. Sims was. Nancy Brown spoke of Ms. Sims’ insistence on being referred to as a “first selectman” and not a “first selectwoman” because she didn’t want it to be any different. Mr. Pearson said that at the beginning of Ms. Sims’ term the reaction of the people was “Hey, the first selectman is a lady” and how at the end of it, it was “Hey, the first selectman is a statesman.”

Ms. Brown listed off some of the projects that were either begun or accomplished when Ms. Sims was in office, including setting up Kids in Crisis in town, establishing Abilis, known back then as the ARC, and creating the Byram Neighborhood Center, and said she always worked to hear all voices and involve others in the decision making process. But, lest anyone think of her only as a saint, Ms. Brown admitted there was an occasion when the two of them would sneak out of work early while Ms. Sims was first selectman and go shopping together.

Ms. Sims’ children, Christopher, Jennifer and William, all spoke at the service.

“Greenwich, Ct. was my mother and father’s home for half a century and the narratives and the memories run very deep,” William Sims said at the service. “Nothing would please our family more than to have each of you simply use this occasion as an opportunity to think about how she touched all of your lives.”

He further remembered his mother as “one of the kindest, most ethical and purely decent persons I will ever know.” Calling her “kind as anyone could possibly be, yet authoritative in such profoundly productive ways” he added that her impact wasn’t just political, but also as a mother, grandmother and great grandmother.

Jennifer Sims recalled her mother’s ability to make a ball gown out of scratch and how she also would hand make sweaters and quilts stitch by stitch, even when caring for her daughter Jody, who passed away from cancer. Jennifer said she saw her mother cope with grief by “creating, giving and producing.”

“My mom measured accomplishment not by rank or fame but rather, I think, by getting things done for a larger whole,” Jennifer said. “She did it by weaving things together and involving all the threads of our extended family, much as her mother had before her. She and my father did this through family reunions, letter writing and the care and nurture of the family gathering spot in Salem, Ct. Her talent for hard work, seeing patterns and sewing parts together made her a good political leader. She had strong principles which she used to navigate difficult situations and she also knew how to join her principles together to work with others.”

Mr. Tesei thanked Ms. Sims’ children for “sharing your mom and allowing her to serve us” and presented them with the Town of Greenwich flag and the condolence book that had been in the lobby of Town Hall since news came of her death.

After the service, Jennifer Sims told the Post that it meant a lot for her and her family to see the turnout and to be told what an impact her mother had on the community.

“There’s been such a warm embrace for the family,” she said. “It’s just been marvelous to see all these friends, colleagues and team players with my mothers. I think that was a theme for tonight. It was honoring my mother’s memory through all the people she worked with as a team to contribute to the town. It was a great evening.”

 

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