By Kara Thompson,
Special to the AFRO

Vernon L. Simms, longtime advisor and chief of staff to the late Elijah Cummings, passed away on July 16. 

“Vernon loved the AFRO and the AFRO loved him,” said Diane Hocker, director of the Community & Public Relations for the AFRO. “He would open doors and use his influence to allow others to have a seat at the table and would not pass judgment. I will forever be grateful for his friendship and his motivating conversations.”

The news was announced when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer released a statement on July 18. Hoyer had the opportunity to get to know Simms during his time serving Cummings, whom Hoyer was good friends with. Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch also released a statement regarding Simm’s death on July 18. 

Simms was serving as the director of the Smithsonian’s Office of Government Relations at the time of his passing, which he had been hired for in 2020. In this position, he was responsible for strengthening the Smithsonian’s relationship with governments, including Congress, the executive branch, and local and state governments. 

During his time working for Cummings, he provided strategic advice on a variety of political issues, and served as a point of contact for many state and local delegations. These delegations included the Maryland Congressional Delegation, Maryland State Delegation, and the Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County Delegations. Simms led a staff of 21, and had leadership positions in the Congressional Black Caucus and the Committee on Oversight and Reform, where he served as chairman. 

“Vernon was definitely a friend and a mentor to me and he spent many, many hours schooling me on everything from advancing the Congressman, to planning events to ethics to real life problems,” said Amy Stratton, who served as the special assistant to Elijah Cummings for about 12 years, on Facebook. “He was a true professional & his calm & unwavering demeanor always made you feel safe.”

Before working in the Cummings administration, Simms served Rep. Kweisi Mfume as special assistant for government and community operations. There, he helped Mfume with both government and community concerns and issues. 

Early in his career, Simms also was a paralegal at a law firm, and worked for Maryland Chapter of the American Planning Association in Baltimore, where he was executive director.

Simms is survived by his wife, Linda, to whom he was married for over 30 years, his three children, Erin, Candice and Kyle, and four grandchildren, as well as many other family members and friends. 

Memorial Services for Simms will be held on July 30 at the Vaughn Greene funeral home, located at 8728 Liberty Rd. in Randallstown, Md. At 2 p.m. there will be a family hour, and at 2:30 p.m. the service will begin. Masks are required at both.

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