"She was an extremely loving mother," said her daughter Rita Simmons. "She always put her children first, before herself. You couldn't have asked for a better mother. And she treated the children she took in the same way."
Shirley Simmons, who was also a devoted churchwoman and exceptional cook, died Monday of lung cancer. She was 78 and lived in Germantown.
"She was very caring and very fun," Rita said. "I called her every day. Sometimes I would be mad at something at work, and she would tell me the right way to approach the situation."
Because of the way her mother treated the foster children, Rita resisted calling them "foster." They became part of the family; they were accepted as Shirley's children and treated as such.
"We were all one family," Rita said. "That's the way it was there. There was no distinction."
"Aunt Shirley was a gracious, loving woman who personified love," said her niece Jean Waites-Howard, visiting assistant professor of sociology at Lincoln University. "She raised her foster children as if they were her own, helping them to grow and develop to become successful adults. Her passing leaves a void in our family circle."
Shirley was born in Robeson County, N.C., to Burnell and Pinkie Taylor. The family came to Philadelphia when she was a child, and she graduated from Simon Gratz High School.
She married George Simmons Sr., a cook in the Merchant Marine, on June 20, 1954. He died in 1992.
Shirley was an active member of Sanctuary Church of God in Christ, where she earned the title of "mother of the church." She was involved in many church activities, and supported the youth group run by her daughter Rita.
As a cook, Shirley was generous with her offerings. When Rita was a student, her mother would provide cupcakes for bake sales.
But it was her lasagna that would have won prizes, especially as far as Rita was concerned.
"Her lasagna was my favorite," she said. "I would whine and moan until she made it for me. If I was feeling low, her lasagna would help me feel better."
Besides her daughter, she is survived by a son, George Simmons Jr.; two other daughters, Bonnie Harkless and Nicole Simmons; a sister, Annie Ruth Waites, and five grandchildren.
Services: 10 a.m. Saturday at Sanctuary Church of God in Christ, 34 E. Sharpnack St. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Ivy Hill Cemetery.