On Monday, January 2, 2023, our mother, Linda Diane (Wilkinson) Simmons passed away at Jackson Madison County General Hospital. She was surrounded by family who spent her final days swapping stories around her bedside, laughing far more than is appropriate, and agreeing that this was exactly the way she would want us to act.
Linda burst onto the scene on April 8, 1948, in Aurora, Illinois, to the delight of her parents, Theodore “Ted” Wilkinson and Virginia (Ellenburg) Wilkinson. She joined her three older siblings, Theodore “Butch”, Vicki, and Russ. When she and her siblings reached their teen and young adult years, their parents decided to embarrass them in front of their friends by adding two more surprise sisters to the family, Bonnie and then Mary.
As is often the case in families with a large span of ages, our mom took over the care of Mary and considered Mary her first “baby”, which was in direct odds with our grandmother who cherished her last baby. This came to a head when our mom had Mary nearly potty trained and our grandmother, in a panic about her last baby, insisted that Mary be put back in diapers for just a little longer. When our mom had her own children we were potty trained pretty quickly and there was no returning to diapers for just a little longer! Mom was as proud of and delighted with Mary as she was with us, her actual kids. We refer to Mary as one of “Mom’s Three Babies”.
Our mom had two children, her favorite daughter, Kelli Sue, and her favorite son, Dean Aaron. For most of our childhoods, she raised us in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. She believed that children should be seen and heard, as long as they weren’t seen rolling their eyes and they weren’t heard using foul language unless quoting George Carlin or Steve Martin. Her rules were simple and her consequences were fair, though we did not think so at the time. Beyond her simple rules, and the general expectation that we would not be lousy humans, she gave us freedom and support to be whatever we wanted to be. She never worried about whether some new interest was going to be a passing phase or not, she let us try everything and never fussed when our interest waned. Through the years she took up horseback riding, cheered at karate competitions, learned to judge speech and debate tournaments, and turned one of her kids loose with chunks of wood and sharp tools. Even when we became adults, she remained interested in what interested us. She supported our business endeavors, our volunteer work, our creative outlets, and our travel. Whatever we liked, she liked too.
In her retirement years, she went on several trips with her son and got to see and experience wonderful places and adventures. As true to her quirky personality, her absolute favorite experience was Roswell, New Mexico during the UFO Festival. Even the Grand Canyon could not compare to a gathering of space aliens and aficionados. She fit right in!
There was nothing we enjoyed more than seeing our mom delighted. Life was often very hard when we were kids, but we did not see the struggle while living it because she always hid it from us. We never knew we were, at times, living in poverty, because Mom made everything seem brighter and easier than it was. Once we matured enough to grasp just how much she had sacrificed for us, delighting her became one of our great pleasures in life.
Mom did not graduate from high school but did go on to earn her high school equivalency later. From that humble start, and with very little further education, she worked her way through minimum wage jobs, she learned to do taxes and bookkeeping and eventually built a career in restaurant management through Godfather’s Pizza. In 1988, she was hired by Tennessee Housing Development Agency Section 8 where she served her clients and built her career until her retirement in 2012.
Even after retirement, Mom could not sit still and spent her retirement years running a booth at a local flea market, buying and reselling vintage decor. It was a successful little venture and she had so much fun doing it. It also meant that in addition to leaving us with warm memories, the ability to laugh at hard times, and wicked caffeine addictions, she also left us a house and garage full of things for her booth. We are grateful for the life lessons and amused by the amount of stuff we have to sort through.
Mom loved her daughter-in-law, Danielle, and son-in-law, Bobby. She was so proud of the homes and lives we built with our partners. She always wanted them to know they were loved and accepted in the family unconditionally. As long as her kids were being treated well by their spouses, then she was happy. She loved them as individuals, not just extensions of us, and lavished them with her generosity and affection.
Mom was a beloved aunt to 13 nieces and nephews. Whenever Aunt Linda arrived in Yorkville, Illinois for a visit our cousins all came to visit. We hoped that they were there to play with us, their southern cousins, but we suspect that it was more about their favorite cool aunt showing up. We could not be jealous, as we also thought she was pretty cool.
Mom met Ronald Eugene Simmons on February 25, 1984. We know this date is correct because, like so many other things that were pivot points in her life, we found it written down in her belongings. She was living in Sikeston, MO when she decided to stop by a local bar after work. Ron was just leaving as she was coming. She saw him. He saw her. He turned around and came back into the bar. They married on October 12, 1984, and Ron became our beloved stepdad!
When it was announced that the first grandchild was preparing for his debut, Mom and Ron began the difficult task of choosing their official grandparent names. After much debate, they settled on Nonny and Pap. They were wonderful, involved, and doting grandparents to Robby, Bekah, Sarah, Gabriel, Shalom, Justice Appleton, Timothy, and Andrew Davis. And while Mary’s son, Jordan, was Mom’s nephew, he was loved and treated as a grandchild. We see pieces of Mom and Ron in our now-grown children every day. They are their legacy.
Mom got to hang around with us long enough to become a great-grandmother too, as we welcomed Sawyer Childress, Sybil Cruse, and Simon Cruse. She loved being a Nonny to two generations!
Linda was preceded in death by her husband, Ron, her parents Theodore Wilkinson and Virginia( Ellenburg) Wilkinson, her brother Theodore “Butch” Wilkinson, her sister Vicki Donohoe, and her sister Bonnie Johnson.
She is survived by her son, Dean Davis, and wife Danielle, and their sons Timothy (and wife Kaetlin) and Andrew Davis; her daughter, Kelli Appleton and husband Bobby Appleton and their children Robby, Bekah (and husband Rich Cruse and children Sawyer, Sybil and Simon), Sarah, Gabriel, Shalom, and Justice. She is also survived by her brother, Russ Wilkinson, his wife Peggy; her sister, Mary Wehrs, her husband Gregg, and their son Jordan. She leaves behind the aforementioned 13 nieces and nephews who all had their own unique memories with her. She will also be missed by her sister-in-law and friend, Marianne Wilkinson, widow of Theodore “Butch” Wilkinson.
Mom also leaves behind her constant companion since widowhood, her little dog Bella. Bella will be going home with Dean where she will be loved for life, with as frequent as possible visits from Kelli.
A private family time of remembrance and celebration will be held at a future date. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you donate to Kirkland Cancer Center, 720 W. Forest Avenue, Jackson, Tennessee, 38301