MID-CITY — Usually plaques mounted on hospital walls are reserved for those who donate lots of cash. Jette Simmons was honored with a bronze plaque at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center for giving something arguably more valuable — her time.
Simmons, who friends and colleagues remember as a “feisty Brit” who was immaculately dressed and had a great sense of humor, volunteered 78,000 hours at the Mid-City health center over the last 43 years, more than any other person in the University of California system.
When those at the hospital learned about her death May 3 at the age of 98, they knew there would be a serious void that would not easily be filled.
“Jette was an amazing woman who really believed in volunteerism,” said Lynn Sullivan, Santa Monica-UCLA’s community health program manager for the BirthPlace, a maternity center where Simmons would routinely deliver caps and booties she knitted herself for new moms and their babies.
“She was one in a million,” Sullivan said. “She kept on top of it all. A real perfectionist in everything. She would be chasing us around to make sure we did our jobs so that she could do hers.”
Simmons’ son, Peter Simmons, said his mother loved to knit, learning the skills from her grandmother while growing up in the U.K. Jette Simmons, her husband and young son immigrated to the United States from London during World War II. The younger Simmons remembers his parents working long hours to put food on the table, his mother washing pots and pans in a restaurant while his father was a shoe salesman in Downey. They lived in Venice and moved to Santa Monica a year later.
“They liked it down by the water,” Peter Simmons said.
The couple’s only son graduated from Santa Monica High School and moved to San Francisco. He now lives in Vancouver with his wife. His mother and father stayed behind in Santa Monica, his father eventually becoming the vice president of a bank, affording Jette Simmons the opportunity to volunteer.
“She was the kind of person who grew up very poor, my father even more so,” Peter Simmons said. “She just didn’t like the idea of doing nothing and always felt that she wanted to help those who were less fortunate than her. She wanted to serve those who needed help and I guess she saw patients as those being the most in need.”
Jette Simmons would often say that the hospital could never fire her because she didn’t work for money, she worked for kudos.
Elaine Eastwood, the hospital’s volunteer manager, said Jette Simmons worked at the hospital at least three days a week, and her enthusiasm never waned despite getting older and less mobile. During that time she volunteered at the gift shop, helped patients in recovery, attended to new mothers and answered phones at the volunteer center.
“No matter what was going on in her own life, she always went beyond her own personal situation to connect with people,” Eastwood said. “She was very unique in that respect. Nothing got her down.”
Jette Simmons was an inspiration to older adults who saw a 98-year-old woman contributing, Sullivan said. She would also take pleasure in the little things, like the thank you cards from the mothers who received the booties she knitted.
“She didn’t have the easiest life,” Eastwood said. “She shared with me stories about living during the war, having to take care of her family and the loss of her husband. It wasn’t smooth sailing, but it was very important for her to be active in the community she lived in.”