In Remembrance of William S. Simmons

June 19, 2018

William S. Simmons of Providence, 79, passed away on June 2 after a battle with cancer. 


Bill S. Simmons was born in Providence on September 10, 1938 to William and Lena (Roberts) Simmons. He attended Classical High School and Brown University and earned his Ph.D. in Anthropology from Harvard University.

He was faculty at University of California, Berkeley, from 1967 to 1998.  Professor Simmons’ best-known research examined the experiences of New England’s Native Peoples from the period of contact to the present.  His historical anthropological work detailing indigenous memories of colonial experiences and demonstrating the biases of Puritan populations provided important counterpoints to dominant national narratives about that time.  He is remembered fondly by Berkeley colleagues for his passionate defense of Native American rights, particularly around issues of cultural patrimony. He had an enduring impact on the University of California, serving as chair of the Anthropology Department (1984-1990) the first director for the Center for the Study of American Cultures (from 1988-1994) and Dean of Social Sciences from 1993 until his retirement in 1998.  All students today take courses emphasizing the diversity of American society (the American Cultures requirement) due to his initiatives. After retirement from Berkeley, he returned to his Alma Mater, Brown University, where he served as Executive Vice President and Provost, the Director of the Center for Race and Ethnicity, and as chair of the Department of Anthropology.

Active in the community beyond the University, he was a Trustee of the Rhode Island Historical Society and the Providence Public Library and was the City of Providence Archaeologist since 2014. From 2003-2011 he served as First Vice President of the Providence Branch of the NAACP.


He is survived by his wife, Cheryl Simmons, his daughters Riva Mullins and Kaia Simmons, his grandsons Shane and Kai Mullins, his brother Robert Simmons.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Hope Hospice, 1085 North Main St., Providence, RI 02904.