Freeda Simmons' Death Hits Both Murray State, Vanderbilt Hard
A nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center's emergency room and the mother of Murray State forward Picasso Simmons, Freeda Simmons died in an early morning car accident Monday in suburban Nashville, Tenn., barely half a day after her son's team had been announced as the No. 13 seed facing fourth-seeded Vanderbilt. Simmons was returning home after her shift at 5:30 a.m. when an empty trash container fell off the back of a truck. Unable to avoid the accident, Simmons slammed into the container and was rushed by ambulance back to Vanderbilt, where her co-workers worked frantically to save her life.
Nothing could be done.
Freeda, a former track athlete at Murray State and a mother of five, was pronounced dead two hours later.
Now, Picasso, who has played in seven games for the No. 13-seeded Racers is continuing to San Jose, Calif., to play for the Racers as they face Vanderbilt on Thursday.
He's playing with his team because it's what he thinks his mother would want him to do.
Now, teams separated by just 91 miles will travel over 1,900 to California to play a basketball game minus one of the women with the strongest connections to each university.
Across the city of Nashville, as basketball fans geared up for Vanderbilt and Murray State's tipoff, the reverberations of Simmons' death lingered. From Vanderbilt's emergency room, to Station Camp High School in suburban Nashville where a former coach, Seth Massey, who had been excited to watch both of the school's Division I players compete, everyone attempted to comprehend the tragedy.
Massey, a 34-year-old history teacher who has been the head coach of the boys team at Station Camp for five seasons, couldn't believe when the brackets were released that his high school in Gallatin, Tenn., just eight years old, featured an NCAA tourney match-up between the school's only two Division I players, John Jenkins at Vanderbilt and Picasso Simmons at Murray State.
"What are the odds," he asked, "that would happen?"
While they were separated by several years in school, the players shared many traits.
"Picasso's senior year was my first year at Station Camp," Massey told FanHouse. "I was an assistant coach then, but he and John just had so much in common. They were both hard workers with great families. Guys who everyone in the school loved."
Picasso, whose mother named all five of her children after famous artists due to her love of art, averaged 12 points per game as a senior at Station Camp and went on to prep school in Maine to refine his talents.
"He was a good player, but we all felt like his best basketball was going to be in the years ahead. He was still raw," said Massey.
"He and John had a lot in common in terms of the way they carried themselves off the court. I'll tell you that come [tipoff] we'll have the game on in every classroom, from the Spanish teacher Ms. Gibson, to the football coach, everyone loved them," Massey said. "There wasn't a hint of arrogance about them."
Not from Picasso Simmons and not from John Jenkins, who would lead the nation in high school scoring at 42 points per game average as a senior, and would read books to schoolchildren across Sumner County.
During the summers after he graduated Picasso Simmons would return to Station Camp and scrimmage with the younger players. "He and John would play against each other back then," Massey said. "Both trying to get better."
"We're a family out here. We're tight knit," Massey said.
Across town, another tight-knit community, the nurses, doctors, and paramedics in Vanderbilt University's emergency room, attempted to cope with Freeda Simmons' death. Simmons worked three days a week, the 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift, or bridge shift as it's known since she worked with both day and night nurses, 18 of them per shift, 85 in all.
"We loved her, "Gary Howard, the director of emergency services said. "She was a really, really good person. She was energetic, she was committed to her patients."
Freeda's efforts in the emergency room extended beyond the field of nursing. She'd created artwork to hang on the walls of the hospital. Howard described two in particular. One, a caricature of a paramedic, Mike, who loved jazz and played the guitar. Another, a reflection of Vanderbilt's hearts and minds program, featured a detailed rendering of the heart and a brain with Albert Einstein in the middle of both.
"They were both beautiful drawings," Howard said.
In addition to her love for art, Freeda was hugely involved in her childrens' lives and, according to Howard, talked about them often. "She was so proud of them, how they were doing," he said. "Hugely crazy about her kids."
Howard, holding back tears, discussed the difficulty of the nurses working to revive one of their own after the accident. "We're highly trained and we went into trauma mode, but we knew who it was." He paused. "Dealing with her death has been difficult for all of us."
Asked if there's anything else he thought people would want to know about Freeda Simmons, on the day before her son took the court to play against the university that employed her, he thought for a long time and then said simply, "Just that she was wonderful."