From Tormentor To Mentor: Larry Simmons’ Journey From A Life Of Chaos To One Of Service
Once a man who brought chaos to his own household, Larry Simmons now channels his energies to peace and restoration in his community.
A father of five with seven grandchildren who is married for 17 years to his third wife, Edna, Simmons said his “two former wives were the recipients of a lot of abuse kept in our home.” Similarly, his children — Stephen, Preston, Micah, Laiken and Kennedy — “were exposed to a lot of damage done in those relationships, and it took time to mend that damage,” he said.
“But it’s amazing what my father is doing now,” said Preston Simmons, an information technology consultant. “He’s truly somebody who embodies healing with all whom he interacts with. Wherever my father goes, he leaves things a little better than the way he found them.”
A 65-year-old certified public accountant who has been in prison twice, Larry Simmons uses his past to improve the lives of others: advocating for women, assisting the rehabilitation and recovery of criminals and those suffering from alcohol and drug addiction, and providing financial pro bono work for philanthropic nonprofits.
“I’ve been clean and sober for 21 years since I was 44. Edna and I didn’t know each other when I was drinking. She only knows the stories the kids and I tell her. My son, Preston, used to get most of the physical and emotional abuse. It should come as no surprise it took him the longest to recover,” said Simmons, who lives in Frederick, Maryland.
“But things are much different now. Our family bond is much stronger [today] largely because we all know how fragile relationships can be, and we all work diligently to make our relationships work. In some walks of life, my experiences make me the perfect messenger. Without a test, there is no testimony. My testimony may provide the solution in helping another make it to the other side of their challenges.”
Simmons champions a pair of programs against domestic violence. He is a grant writer, board and committee member with the Jamisons’ Center of Kindness in Texarkana, Arkansas, and he is chair of Women Who Care Ministries in Montgomery County, Maryland.
“Larry Simmons has been an advocate for the ministry. His cool, calm, collected, even-tempered and confident nature makes him effective in dealing with others,” said Judith Clarke, the ministries’ executive director. “He is generally soft-spoken. His commitment to helping others overcome challenging areas of their lives is unparalleled.”
Simmons also serves pro bono as treasurer for the Phoenix Recovery Academy in Frederick, providing monthly financial reports, monitoring expenses and income “to help us succeed in our efforts to provide a safe learning environment for high school students struggling with addiction,” said Nelson W. Rupp, Jr., senior judge of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County.
Simmons is also a board member of Montgomery County’s Circuit Court Adult Drug Treatment Program, created 17 years ago “to break the cycle of the nonviolent addicted offender through treatment instead of incarceration,” said Rupp.
“The work I do with drug court is not associated with my professional life, but more out of duty,” said Simmons.
“Larry serves on its board and sponsors many of our drug court participants on their road to sobriety and has been an invaluable asset to the successes we have experienced. He assists our program by providing sober housing…,” said Rupp, who has known Simmons for 15 years.
“Larry performs his service at no charge to our program. He is a role model for our drug court participants and mentors them to allow them to return to society and their families. He never loses sight of where he has been, what he’s been able to overcome with the help of others, and the importance of giving back to the community.”
Those descriptions are a sharp contrast to the man Simmons himself describes as “a terror” to his ex-wives and children. Preston Simmons said the healing process began, in part, by having coffee once weekly with his father.
“In all of my endeavors not to be like my father, I became exactly like him. I had begun to be a detriment to people I loved and to anyone who dared to depend upon me,” said Preston Simmons. “I reached out to him, and he reached back, and we started with the weekly coffee. We stopped trying to get the other to make up for the past, put down the resentments and pick up the healing.”
Larry Simmons said he had “a great childhood,” being raised with two siblings in Tuskegee, Alabama, by Ludie and Rosetta Simmons. His father died when he was 28, and his mother died when he was 30.
“My parents spent time with me and supported everything I did as best they could. They were very proud of my life accomplishments and had no idea of the resentments I had with them, particularly my dad. Of course, racism was an issue, but my siblings and I were sheltered from it to a great extent,” said Simmons.
“We knew that my father walked the  Selma walk with Dr. Martin Luther King, but at our ages, we did not understand the real significance of the danger surrounding the event. There were occasions where my family would drive to my mother’s hometown, Statesboro, Georgia, and we knew they could not stop at certain restaurants. We did not understand what ‘White’s Only’ meant in relation to the restrooms.”
Ludie Simmons “always worked two jobs, but he always found time for us. He taught me to play baseball and football,” said Simmons. “I was a great catcher and third baseman. I played starting wingback in high school. I was the smallest person on the team but also the fastest and didn’t mind taking or giving a hit.”
But an inner demon already had taken root inside of Larry Simmons.
“My perspective started to shift in grade school. I started to become driven by what other kids had and what I didn’t. I started playing in musical bands when I was 12. The drinking and drugging started shortly after at age 13. I think I crossed the line right at the beginning, since I was close to a daily drinker and drug user from the very start,” he said.
“I first acknowledged drinking as a problem when I was 28. In the end, the illicit drugs were not prevalent, but I would use them occasionally. Drinking was the drug of destruction for me. I couldn’t do more than three to four hours without drinking, otherwise, I would start to have tremors. At the end, one to two fifths of liquor was a requirement just so I could seemingly function.”
Simmons, nevertheless, graduated with honors and an accounting degree from Auburn University in 1980, with a focus in forensics and a minor in computer technology. He received an MBA in financial planning from Auburn in 1982 and became a licensed CPA in 1984.
But Simmons often used his skills for self-serving and nefarious reasons. Stealing money from an elementary school fund earned Simmons four felony convictions and a jail stint of just over three months for embezzlement.
“My license was revoked. I could practice accounting, but not list myself as a CPA. I painted houses for a friend and another friend later took a chance on me,” said Simmons, who was struggling to pay monthly child support of $3,000. “He had his hands in a lot of business opportunities and hired me to do the accounting for most of them. He gave me an opportunity to practice my profession again. I had no idea this kind of gesture would ultimately launch a viable business. With the help of many, I was eventually re-certified.”
Although Simmons said he detoxed in jail, “The first thing I did when I got out of jail was to stop at the liquor store.”
Simmons violated probation and was jailed again in 2001 “with a year and a day clean and sober… I discovered in prison that I could be free there or anywhere else,” he said.
“While in prison, I signed up for the residence substance abuse treatment program and continued to walk on the road of sobriety, which had been strongly instilled in me before getting there,” said Simmons. “I assisted some of the other inmates in writing letters and motions for reconsideration to the courts. I helped others by articulating what they wanted to say in letters to their loved ones. I found a workout trainer there. I helped him with letters, and he helped me to get in shape.”
From that point on, Simmons has worked to turn calamity into something closer to serenity.
“Larry has lived the consequences of addiction and has experienced the difficulties of overcoming those consequences,” said Rupp. “He has instant credibility with those he helps. This commitment is in addition to the time he devotes to his successful business and the time he devotes to his family.”
“The only thing I take with me is the footprint I leave on another person’s heart. For me, that starts at home,” he said. “The negative life experiences have landed me into a life of service. I strive each day to be that image in my mind of what God had in mind for me from the very beginning.”
Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff
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