Leonard C. Simmons, a former health administrator and lifelong learner, dies

Leonard Cosby Simmons, a retired state administrator in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and an early Columbia resident, died of heart failure Jan. 13 at Montgomery County Hospital in Olney. He was 91.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Calhoun Street, he was the son of Alfred L. Simmons Sr., a Bethlehem Steel Corp. worker, and Loveleen A. Simmons, a homemaker.


Dr. Simmons worked at Edmondson Hardware on Carey Street while he attended Frederick Douglass High School and what is now known as Morgan State University.

“My father credited his experience at the hardware store with providing him know how he would use for the rest of his life,” said his son, Scott Simmons.


Before his graduation from Douglass, he was a member of the debate teams, coached by Ethel E. Wise. The team won two debates with City College.

He was an active member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and belonged to the ROTC while at Morgan. He became a cadet captain and was honored for leading Company C at the school in 1953.

He served in the Army and left military service as a first lieutenant.

He earned a master’s degree from the Catholic University of America, the National Catholic School of Social Services and later a doctorate from what is now Case Western Reserve University’s School of Applied Social Sciences.

Dr. Simmons — who shunned the use of the Dr. title because he thought people would think he was a physician and because he was modest — also attended the University of California School of Public Health for a year.

Dr. Simmons was named the regional mental health director for Baltimore City in 1973 by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene after serving as a federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare regional health commissioner in Philadelphia.

He had earlier been director of social services at Massillon State Hospital in Ohio.

“Leonard had an odd sense of humor and you had to think twice about what he said. He had a great thirst of knowledge and never stopped learning. He was kind and generous and believed in helping students complete college,” said his friend Carolyn Harp.


“He had a wry sense of humor and was a gregarious person. He was social and outgoing,” said his daughter, Karla Simmons Baker. “He was into politics and world issues and the American scene. He was also a student of Black history.”

He also taught at the University of Maryland, College Park, had been a caseworker at Baltimore’s old Department of Public Welfare and served as a social worker at Perry Point Veterans Hospital.

“My father often said he was raised in the traditions of the Southern, Black Baptist Church and engaged in an endless quest to learn more about the historic and biblical Jesus,” said his son. “He found great comfort and meaning in the music and preaching and teachings of the Church.”

Dr. Simmons moved to the newly established Columbia in 1968, he was a member of the community’s transition board. He was also active in Harper’s Choice Village Board. He was first a member of the Columbia Athletic Club and later became a member of the YMCA.

He was a volunteer youth soccer coach for the Soccer Association of Columbia.

“He was a man from Baltimore City who knew nothing about soccer and he coached us with a rule book in his hand,” his daughter said.


His son recalled his father’s lifelong desire for learning.

“My father had an insatiable quest for knowledge,” his son said. “He read continuously and had eclectic tastes in music.”

A music lover, Dr. Simmons fancied jazz, the blues, gospel, country and western, and classical styles. He enjoyed attending the theater and art museums.

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He was a physical fitness buff who exercised regularly along Columbia’s trail system and at Wilde Lake.

Dr. Simmons believed in education and established two scholarship funds for students wanting to attend Morgan State University. The funds are the Leonard C. Simmons Endowed Scholarship Fund and the Dorthea Arvin Rawlings Fund, named for his sister.

“He loved to travel and had the good fortune to have traveled extensively throughout the world,” his son said. “San Francisco, Montreal and Rome were his favorite cities; Italy and Greece, his favorite countries.”


A fraternity brother, David Barrett, said: “I called him learned Leonard. He presented himself as a reserved person. He was thoughtful. He could engage you in any topic and do so with enthusiasm.”

He was a member of Friends of the Chapel, an organization dedicated to saving and maintaining the Morgan State University Chapel.

Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 18 at Providence Baptist Church, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave., where he was a member.

Survivors include a son, Scott T. Simmons of Columbia; a daughter, Karla Simmons Baker of Howard County; and three grandchildren. His marriages to Mattie Simmons and Audrey McMillan ended in divorce.