- Special Sections
- Public Notices
I don't normally fret about writing columns, but this one has been tough. How, after all, do you adequately muster the words to pay fitting tribute to someone who has spent much of her life taking care of our most vulnerable children and their families?
For more than a decade, Mary Simmons directed the Dorman Center, a special day care for at-risk children. If you had to make a list of some of life's toughest assignments, that job would be right near the top.
Mary and her staff had to teach children who were autistic, who had speech or hearing defects or physical disabilities, who had attention-deficit disorders, who could not be controlled by their parents or who had no parents to try to control them. The politically correct words are "teaching children with special needs." The true words are "tough job."
Because the kids were "special" and the job was difficult, teachers often burned out quickly, and Mary had to deal with turnover. She also had to cope with growing pains as the waiting list to get in grew and another center, called Dorman North was opened. And there was never enough government money, and sometimes what little there was got trimmed back.
But Mary was eastern-Kentucky-mountain-woman-tough, and often as not she got what she wanted from state and local politicians. Politicians might ignore the families Mary served, but they wouldn't - couldn't - ignore Mary. When she issued invitations for a fundraiser or an "awareness gathering," judges, legislators, council members and magistrates piled through the doors. You had a feeling they would rather shoot their mothers than cross Mary. Whole companies, including Bellsouth and the former Budd plant, sent volunteers to help the Dorman Center and the kids.
But the kids knew Mary was a soft touch. I watched her many a time growl at a misbehaving child in her gravelly voice, wag her fingers and shake her head, only to have the child grin and hug her. Often when I walked into the Dorman Center on a picture-taking assignment, Mary and one of her little "princesses" would be sitting in her office having a conversation more adult than childlike. And everyone who knows Mary knows it's true that, as she has said, she would cry at the opening of a grocery store. And I've seen her cry a lot, but only when she is talking about "her children."
Dealing with a few health issues, Mary left the Dorman Center a few months ago. This weekend, her friends and family will gather at Clear Creek Park to wish her a happy retirement.
She says in retirement she will be spending much of her time sitting on her front porch. Do me a favor. If you see her out front of her house on Main Street, wave cordially. She's the woman who has taken care of your children for these many years. I can't imagine a richer legacy.