Friday, December 3, 2010

Our Friend, Essie Simms

Posted by Bruce Miller
This is a post written and submitted by Carrie Galeski, Barksdale Trustee extraordinaire. Carrie isn't actually on the Board anymore, but once a Trustee, always a Trustee. During Pat Carroll's recent visit to Richmond (Pat was a guest artist with Irene Ziegler's Virginia Arts & Letters LIVE), Carrie hosted Pat in her beautiful Hanover home (see photo to the right of Pat and Carrie). One of the highlights of the reunion was a visit which Carrie and Pat made to Barksdale stalwart Essie Simms, who now lives on the third floor of the Parsons Health Care facility at Westminster Canterbury. Essie recently entered hospice care, but, to the extent that she is able, she still welcomes visitors. Phil and I stopped by today, but we were unable to rouse Essie from her nap. We'll return next week to visit with our dear friend. In the interim, we post Carrie's lovely article about Pat's return to Richmond and their visit with the irreplaceable Essie Simms.

--Bruce Miller

Our Friend, Essie
By Carrie Galeski

No greater friend has Barksdale Theatre than Essie Simms! She was always at Opening Night, Closing Night, and oftentimes in between. Her passion is theater, and especially Barksdale. Essie was at the first performance of Gold in the Hills at Hanover Tavern in 1954, and I doubt if she ever missed a play after that.

Like many of Essie’s friends, I met her at Barksdale. In the past year, she has had several debilitating strokes, and is currently in the Health Care Unit of Westminster Canterbury. A little over a month ago, I had been told that she had gotten much worse, and some had even been told she was not to have visitors. Being an old RN myself, I don’t always follow rules, so I went to visit her. On that particular day, I found her to be alert and very much in the moment. While talking, I told Essie about Pat Carroll coming to Richmond to do an event at the Cultural Arts Center, and she immediately brightened up. “Oh, how wonderful! I wish I could go” Essie said as she continued to tell me about the many times she had seen Pat perform.

At that moment, I promised myself that I would get Pat up to visit Essie if at all possible. I called Pat at home, and told her about my idea. “We’ll make it happen!” was Pat’s response.

Pat arrived on Wednesday with a full itinerary, but on Friday morning, Pat, my friend, Linda, and I went to see Miss Essie at WC. When we got to Essie’s room, Pat went in first, with her contagious laughter and wonderful spirit to greet Essie. The response was fantastic – smiles and laughter everywhere! They talked and talked; Essie even tried to tell a couple of jokes. When we left, Pat was very touched, and told me that she had expected the visit to be about 10 minutes. Instead, it was over 45!

Friday was also the night of Virginia Arts & Letters LIVE at the Cultural Arts Center where Pat was the guest emcee and also one of the participants in performing the new works. Before the program began, Pat told the audience about our visit to see Essie, and when her name was announced, the audience gave her a round of applause. Then, Pat very graciously announced that she wanted to dedicate her portion of the evening to Miss Essie Simms, with even bigger applause, and I dare say, not a dry eye in the theater.

The next day, we took Pat out to the airport for her trip back to Cape Cod. On the way back to Hanover, we stopped at WC to see Essie. I walked in, and immediately said “Essie, Pat dedicated the evening to you, and you got not one, but two huge rounds of applause!” The biggest tears rolled down her cheeks, and I know they were tears of joy! We even had Pat do a short recording on Linda’s Iphone that we played for her. She was speechless and soooooo happy.

Pat sent several pictures that she had signed to Essie, and I have since framed and hung them on the wall next to her bed where she can see them as she lies in bed. Ursula is even in one of the pics. At times, ES forgets who they are, but not often.

Essie LOVES visitors! When you go, be patient, as some days are better than others with her. The distant past might get mixed with the present, but she loves to see her friends, past and present. Seeing that grateful smile makes it all worthwhile.