[pjw] Rest in Power Yvonne Simmons 1946-2022
Peace and Justice Works
pjw at pjw.info
Sat Jul 2 17:34:22 EDT 2022
It's with a mixture of sadness and relief that I am reporting the death of
our friend, former board member, mentor, ally, musical muse and
troublemaker Yvonne Simmons.
Sadness at the loss of a colleague, friend and activist, relieved because
dementia began taking away Yvonne's memories, motor skills, ability to
speak, eat and even drink water.
Yvonne's amazing life started in England in 1946. As a teenager, she spent
time living on the streets, under bridges, and abandoned buildings with
other teenage runaways, including a group of "ban the bomb" kids who
introduced her to the nuclear disarmament movement. Once in America she
married a man whose mother-in-law, Pat Hollingsworth, was a fierce
feminist and member of the Women's International League for Peace and
Freedom, and the two became inseparable.
I met Yvonne in 1991 during the "Gulf War" when she would come to protests
with her dog Mischief wearing a t-shirt that said "Peace Dog" on it. She
was among the dozen people who founded Peace and Justice Works (as
Portland Peaceworks) in 1992.
In the early half of the 1990s as a crisis brewed in Yugoslavia, she began
making peace journeys there to help bring aid to women, children and
animals. She was the driving force behind PJW's Sarajevo Peace Center
affinity group, dedicated to supporting Yvonne's American reports-back
about her various trips overseas.
In 1999 when the NATO war on Yugoslavia raged, Yvonne made her last trip
there, returning with a rare brain disorder. She ended up in a nursing
home, and was told that people do not recover from Central Pontine
Myelinolysis. She complained about feeling locked up and some of her
friends "sprung her" from the home and got her back with her two cats and
Mischief where she remarkably recovered. The only trace of the disorder
was reflected in her occasional forgetfulness which would provoke Yvonne
to remind people "I have a brain injury."
One of Yvonne's passions was to end violence against women. This was
rooted in her personal experience of violence and her time on the streets.
She brought a national project called the Clothesline Project to Portland,
where survivors wrote messages on t-shirts to affirm their strength and
sometimes confront their abusers through art. The project was often part
of the Peace and Justice Fair that PJW held in the 1990s, as well as
International Women's Day celebrations and events around the region.
Among her other work teaching kids that "hands are not for hurting,"
Yvonne launched and coordinated a neighborhood level peace camp for
children in NE Portland.
Her work with women and children continued in the 2000s. She worked
with the Los Lomas Project, helping children and families eking out a
living on a garbage dump just outside Lima, Peru. It was there she found
Cholito, the runt dog of a litter living in a hole in the ground, and
somehow managed to get him back to the US in 2007. Cholito lived
with Yvonne up until she moved into memory care in 2015. (Mischief had
died in 2003.)
Yvonne sang at many of our planned events and often spontaneously during
conversations or meetings. Much of the time it was as part of a duo with
Mary Rose, known as Simmons Rose.
She was on PJW's board of directors for many years and only stopped
participating as she became less active generally.
Yvonne was also a key part of Flying Focus Video Collective. It's
interesting that her memory care home spoke of Yvonne's impending death
this week as "transitioning" as it came at the same time Flying Focus
transitioned into PJW. She recorded videos of her trips in Yugoslavia and
Peru, as well as a number of international actions or conferences she went
to in Europe, Cuba, and in the US. While not an editor herself, Flying
Focus members had her input to create and produce around 25 programs.
Yvonne's name is etched into the "Walk of Heroines" at Portland State
University, near Hoffman Hall. The last PJW event Yvonne attended was our
"Mother of All Protests" held at that site in 2017 opposing the US use of
the "Mother of All Bombs" in Afghanistan.
She was featured in the Oregonian as "Woman of the Year" for her work
bringing humanitarian aid to Yugoslavia.
We will miss her off-beat sense of humor, songs and caring ways.
When a memorial is planned we will share the information, it could be a
while given the current resurgence of COVID.
peace and justice works
PS many thanks to Yvonne's close friend and another former PJW board
member Desiree Hellegers for contributing to this email.
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