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by Wayne Wood | Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 8:53 AM
It was, everyone agreed, a horrific end to a beautiful life.
Freeda Simmons-McMillan, R.N., a nurse in Vanderbilt’s Emergency Department, finished her shift on a Monday morning in March 2010 and was driving toward her Gallatin home when an empty trash container fell from the rear of a tractor-trailer truck, causing an accident involving multiple vehicles, including hers.
With critical injuries, she was brought back to the Emergency Department, where her shift had just ended and where her incredulous colleagues labored to save her life. She died later that morning in surgery.
She left behind not only shocked and grieving co-workers, but also her husband, Scott McMillan, who works in VUMC Central Supply, and five children from her first marriage.
One of those children, her daughter Galileo, has gathered some of her mother’s writing and artwork for a new book, “Black and White in a Multi-Colored America.”
Galileo Simmons describes the theme of her mother’s book simply: “Treating people with love, respect and kindness — and following God.”
Scott McMillan remembered the words of his late wife as she was working on the book: “She said even if it helps only one person get closer to God, she had served her purpose. She felt very passionate about [overcoming] differences between cultures.”
Simmons-McMillan was white and her first husband was African-American, and much of the book’s essays and artworks express her perspective on race, skin color and society. These experiences come through examples from her life and those of her children, Luciano, Picasso, Gauguin, Michelangelo and Galileo, the only girl.
One essay, titled “The Token Prize,” deals with the experience of a 5-year-old Galileo and her disappointment at receiving a prize in her kids’ meal at a fast food restaurant that was an African-American doll, because she wanted the doll “to be light, like you, Mom.”
“The book is about her experiences,” explained Galileo. “The main basis is cultural diversity, to look into ourselves. As she saw it, we are one; we are not races, we are humanity.”
Galileo, 23, followed her mother’s footsteps into nursing, earning her degree from Kentucky’s Murray State University. Along the way, she even worked as a care partner in Vanderbilt’s Emergency Department among her mother’s former colleagues.
One of those was Corey Slovis, M.D., professor and chair of Emergency Medicine.
“[Galileo] embodied Freeda’s warmth and compassion, and when she smiles, I only see her mother,” Slovis said.
“When I think of Freeda, I think of someone who was the ultimate caregiver. If someone needed anything, from expert bedside clinical nursing to having someone provide reassurance, nurturing or just a hand to hold, Freeda was that person.”
Galileo said her mother, who was a prolific writer and visual artist, would be pleased that she had become a nurse, but also said her mom expected her to help with the book’s publication.
“She had said, ‘If anything happens to me, I want [this work] to be a book.’ I felt like my mom had picked me to do it.
“This is a book designed to help people change themselves and change others.”
Wayne Wood, (615) 322-4747
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