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Obituary: Pearl L. Simmons / Parenting specialist at Children's Hospital

Friday, August 23, 2002

By Anita Srikameswaran, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

"Explain that death is normal and final and acknowledge that it's hard to lose someone you love," Pearl L. Simmons wrote in a "Parenting Today" column on grief that ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year.

Pearl L. Simmons

Her family is now reeling from the 42-year-old's unexpected death Wednesday from a streptococcal blood infection.

"She was always worried that some terrible accident was going to befall us," husband Reid Simmons said. "We all had to make sure we buckled our seat belts and wore helmets when we biked, even the adults. The ironic thing is that it happened to her. The most unlikely possible event ended up happening to her."

Mrs. Simmons, of Upper St. Clair, found her calling when she began a decade ago to teach people how to be better parents for a Children's Hospital series of classes. For two years, she brought her skills to a column she wrote for the Your Health section of the Post-Gazette. Many of her poems about her children and family life were published in Pittsburgh Parent magazine.

"She just believed that every child was special," her husband said, "that by treating children right that you would get the best from them and they would grow up to be fine people. She was very active in teaching people about violence against children and bullying in schools."

Brenda Gregg, director of community relations and community health services at Children's, said that Mrs. Simmons took a parenting class at the hospital in 1991 and immediately volunteered to be an instructor for the Positive Parenting Series. She was hired as a salaried, part-time education specialist two years ago.

"She was highly respected and a wonderful human being," Gregg said. Mrs. Simmons had "a passion for building positive relationships between children and their parents. We were very proud to have her as one of our instructors."

Reid Simmons, an expert in artificial intelligence at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, described his wife of 15 years as "elegant." He was initially attracted to her zest for life, her intellectual curiosity and her smile. They met while in graduate school at Boston University, where she completed a master's degree in communications in the late 1980s. She obtained her bachelor's degree in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982.

The Simmonses traveled regularly to England and lived for six months in Israel. Mrs. Simmons was an avid reader, a music lover and a gourmet cook. She was an active member of Beth El synagogue in the South Hills, and volunteered for the South Hills Interfaith Ministries and helped to organize its annual Holocaust memorial.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Simmons is survived by her children, Noah, 12, Rachel, 10, and Joshua, 7; her parents, Richard and Brenda Levenson, of Alexandria, Va; brother Daniel Levenson of Canton, Mass.; sister Naomi Schaffer of Southport, Conn.; and grandmother Rose Herschkovitz, of London, England.

The funeral is at 2 p.m. today at Beth El Congregation of South Hills, 1900 Cochran Road, Scott. Donations may be made in her honor to South Hills Interfaith Ministries, 1900 Sleepy Hollow Road, South Park 15129.

Anita Srikameswaran can be reached at anitas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3858.

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