Friends holding on to the legacy left by Bernice Simmons - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Friends holding on to the legacy left by Bernice Simmons

Simmons put down her roots in Gulfport in 1969. (Photo source: WLOX file) Simmons put down her roots in Gulfport in 1969. (Photo source: WLOX file)
Friends of Bernice Simmons found a plaque at her estate sale that say reflect her true character. (Photo source: WLOX) Friends of Bernice Simmons found a plaque at her estate sale that say reflect her true character. (Photo source: WLOX)
GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

She was a strong woman and someone everyone liked.

Bernice Simmons - an iconic figure on the Coast and leader of so many ideals, including how to enjoy life - died Oct. 18.

Long-time friends are just now able to talk about who she was and the legacy she now leaves behind. The last day of the sale of Bernice’s estate was like a personal tour of her life.

“Oh, she loved this jacket, and I just remember her wearing it,” said friend Valerie Pitalo as she went through some of the clothes on sale. “And, her shoes always matched. She had a pair of pink shoes that she wore with this.”

For many of her friends, it’s the first time they have gathered since her death more than a week ago. They are looking for anything they can hold on to in an effort to keep her close.

“I found a memento here at the yard sale that I'm going to buy,” said another friend Pam Firmin. “Bernice lived every moment. She made herself happy every moment.”

Firmin says Simmons was the kind of person who never shared problems.

“She did not complain about what went wrong. She did not want to talk about what was wrong,” she said. “She was upbeat and she believed that God was going to take care of her life and she put it in His hands.”

Simmons was a leader in the arts and mental health. She was honored for her devotion to Coast tourism. In 2009, she spoke with WLOX about her community service.

“I enjoy getting involved in doing things and I think there aren’t enough hours in the day for me,” Simmons said.

She was also a devoted friend, and even, a surrogate mother to Pitalo.

“When we had our mother daughter teas, I was her surrogate daughter and she was my surrogate mother because my mom had passed and her daughter lived in Virginia,” Pitalo said.

Simmons’ daughter, Lisa Mann of Charlottesville, Va., died Oct. 28, after a battle with cancer.

Friends say there will be a joint memorial on the Coast at a later date.

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