Rev. Thomas S. Simmons, a ‘people’s pastor,’ dies at 80

Karla E. Peters | 2/15/2024, 6 p.m.
The Rev. Thomas S. Simmons always was willing to help somebody — anybody. “He truly never met a stranger,” his ...
Rev. Simmons

The Rev. Thomas S. Simmons always was willing to help somebody — anybody.

“He truly never met a stranger,” his daughter, Angela Simmons Cason said. “Once you met him, he loved you and you loved him.”

Rev. Simmons often encountered the people he helped as an unofficial carrier and distributor for the Richmond Free Press.

“He would pick up a stack of papers every Thursday and take them to people in the neighborhood, around the city and everywhere,” Ms. Cason said. “He loved the Free Press.”

A much-requested revivalist in the region and known as a “people’s pastor,” Rev. Simmons is being remembered for pastoring and helping people from all walks of life following his death on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. He was 80 years old. A standing-room-only service to celebrate the life of Rev. Simmons was held Saturday, Feb. 10, at Quioccasin Baptist Church.

A native of Cambridge, Mass., Rev. Simmons moved his family to Richmond in the early 1980s. In 1981, he earned his master’s of divinity from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University. He received an honorary doctorate of divinity in 1998 from the Richmond Virginia Seminary. In Richmond, Rev. Simmons was first assigned to the ministry of Second Baptist Church, South Richmond, under the pastoral leadership of the Rev. Lawrence B. Samuel.

Rev. Samuel took him under his wing and regarded him as a son. The Second Baptist Gospel Choir was the musical guest for Rev. Simmons’ funeral.

Over the years, Rev. Simmons served as pastor of First Baptist Church (Dinwiddie County), Zion Baptist Church (Mathews County) and Shady Grove Baptist Church (Goochland County).

He retired from pastoring full time after 14 years with the Pine Street Baptist Church in Covington. He was a member of countless ministers’ and civic organizations. Rev. Simmons also was a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

In addition to his work as a pastor, Rev. Simmons was a City of Richmond retiree of the Department of Public Utilities. This is where Pastor Darryl G. Drummond Sr. of New Hope Outreach Ministry first encountered Rev. Simmons.

“I was a young man with a family in the ’90s, and often there was more month than money, so our utilities were cut off,” Pastor Drummond said. “I went down to City Hall with the little money I had, and fortunate for me, Thomas Simmons was at the payment window. … He said, ‘Give me what you can and you take $50 home and feed your family. We’ll get your utilities back on.’ I know he did that for me and countless others.”

Maj. Thomas J. Simmons, a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, remembers his father getting yelled at and cursed at by Public Utilities customers — and he would still help them. He also remembered he and his mother and sisters having to share his father with the people he pastored.

“He was that pastor. He was that man,” Maj. Simmons said. “He helped people.”

In addition to his daughter, Angela, and son Thomas, Rev. Simmons is survived by his wife of 59 years, Elizabeth N. Simmons, daughter Christine S. Booker, siblings Sandra S. Davis, Charlotte

S. Thornton, Valdace Levarity, Eugene Levarity and Margaret Levarity, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.