Excerpt for Not Far From The Tree by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Not Far From The Tree


Eric Otis Simmons

The people and events in “Not Far From The Tree,” are based on my life experiences and are intended only to tell my story.

Not Far From The Tree

Copyright © 2017 by Eric Simmons Enterprises, Inc.

Smashwords Edition.

This book is also available in print.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.


In Loving Memory of Jean Wiletta Simmons

To my Mother, who was the sweetest, brightest and most caring person I’ve ever known. God put my Mom, one of his Angels, on this earth to care for, love, and nurture others. None benefited more from her love than I, who was touched daily by her bright light. I am comforted in the knowledge she is with God and in a place where she always wanted to be, and he is saying to her, “Servant of Mine, Well Done!”


To young black men and women who like me were/are raised by a single Mom. Keep your head up, eyes to the sky, believe in yourself, and to hell with people like George Karl who suggest not having a black Father around is a detriment!


To my beautiful wife, Cynthia. Thank you for being by my side these past 37 years. Without question, aside from my Mom, you are the most genuine person I’ve ever met. There's nothing fake or pretentious about you. I love and admire you for being "wired" that way. Thank you for being a great mother, a devoted Christian, and for being level headed and a calming influence for the kids and me. If more people on this earth walked life's path the way you do, the world would be a better place.

To my young adults, Derek, Dominique, and Kevin. Thank you for being obedient children (#Most of The Time) and for striving and dreaming of doing great things with your lives.

To those Relatives, Coaches, Teachers, Friends and Business Leaders who inspired and motivated me through example. Thanks for showing me, “What Good Looks Like.”


When I started writing my Memoir, my aim was to provide a “Leave Behind,” so to speak, for my young adults about their family history and reveal more about myself and my life’s work to them. God moves in mysterious ways, though. Just when I thought I had told my children “My Story,” I realized I had missed the mark. At the root of "My Story” is the motivation and determination embedded in me, a black man, by my black Mother – who raised me as a single Mom. It was through her and God; I managed to defy academic, athletic, business and social myths/stereotypes. Any success I've had in life, large or small, is primarily attributable to the infusion of "can do" instilled in me by my Mother. She is at the very core of “My Story.”

My goals for this Memoir are 1). Provide my young adults with information about their Family Tree and their Old Man. 2). Share "My Story” to inspire others, particularly young Black men and women raised by a single Mom. My hope is I give others the courage to try and do the unthinkable and not be afraid to come out of their comfort zone. I hope you will be bold enough to knock down walls and try new things in life, like I, such as writing a Memoir to tell your story.

Cognizant other black men have told “their story,” each of ours is unique, in its own way. Enclosed is my inimitable story.


by Kevin Simmons

I have had the honor to be alongside Eric Simmons in many aspects of my life. These include struggles, temptations, excitement, and many other facets of existence a person may go through. Specifically, an African American male in a society that still struggles with racism. This man’s story can be applied to many in the Black community, particularly male and female athletes that have grown up with one parent or no parent. This book isn’t just a glimpse into the past of a family’s history; it entails stories that provide the reader with hope and motivation for their life. “Not Far From The Tree” is also a spotlight into the experiences of an African American male and how he and other blacks lived during the 60’s and 70’s when racial tensions were high.

My father is someone that I look up to as a respected man of character, integrity, and humility. He takes pride in his various crafts, and it has translated into being an example for his family, friends, and people around him. When I think about the credibility of Eric Simmons, a timeline of his accolades and successes come to mind. From his “heart over height” mentality to make Auburn’s basketball team, against all the odds, to obtaining various leadership positions while working at IBM and other Fortune 500 companies, he has the hardware to prove he knows what he is talking about. The key thing about Eric Simmons is that he has always been humble throughout his life. While reading the book, I hope you will be able to see how a small African American male from Little Rock, Arkansas made a name for himself.

Readers will find historical information about the Simmons’ family and understand the origins of where Eric Simmons has come from. I’m hopeful that in reading this book, people will further understand how important family lineage is and more importantly, pick up on key life lessons throughout its contents. Life is a never-ending battle with few ups and many downs. The times we live in now, are such, people have numerous resources to help them overcome trials and tribulations. I believe this book is going to help individuals, raised by a single parent, or no parent, that are going through or have gone through similar circumstances as my Dad. This book is a guide for people who can relate to Eric Simmons and find themselves looking for hope and encouragement. “Not Far From The Tree” is a great read, and at the end of the book, I believe readers will see that they too are not far from the tree.


I'm Eric Otis Simmons, and I am a Challenge Acceptor (#CA). I love proving people wrong. Tell me I can't do something, and more times than not, I'll do it! Need a few bits of proof? A Senior Executive with an Asia-Pacific company once told me he didn't feel comfortable doing business with an American company. Six months later, he procured $25 million worth of business from me. People told me I was too small to walk on and make Auburn University's basketball team. At 5' 7" and 147 pounds, I made the team. A guy once told me I'd never work for the likes of IBM, AT&T or GE. Well, I worked in Sales and Sales Management for all three. Someone said to me, "Oh, you'll never marry that girl." Well, I married "that girl," and we've been together for 37 years. I’ve been personally thanked by Governor George Corley Wallace for a job well done in selling his office an IBM computer system. He was the same man that stood at "The Door" of the University of Alabama to fight entry of blacks into the school. I was the only black man in the room when I closed sales of $500,000 and up in Brussels, Paris, and Hong Kong. When I was told I'd never learn to water ski on my first time out, I did and jokingly proclaimed myself, “The First Black Man on Skis.”

How does a black man, raised by a single Mom, do all of this when "society" says it can't happen? Well, it did happen, because my Mom instilled in me, “seeds” of knowledge, which were - I could do anything and be anything I wanted - if I just put my mind to it. I believed what my Mom told me, and I refused to let her down.







Chapter 1 A Child is Born

Chapter 2 In a League, All Their Own

Chapter 3 Otis Alexander Bailey

Chapter 4 My Ancestry Hunt

Chapter 5 Otis Davis Simmons

Chapter 6 Jean Wiletta Simmons

Chapter 7 The Early Years

Chapter 8 Hooked on Sports

Chapter 9 Remembering Akron

Chapter 10 Dunbar Junior High

Chapter 11 Life Changing Event

Chapter 12 Adjusting to Montgomery

Chapter 13 Robert E. Lee High

Chapter 14 Auburn University

Chapter 15 Transitioning to AUM

Chapter 16 How I Met My Wife

Chapter 17 Bachelor’s Party and Wedding

Chapter 18 My Corporate Career

Chapter 19 Mom Becomes Ill

Chapter 20 Closing

Chapter 1

A Child is Born

It was May 18, 1956, around 11:00 P.M. Otis Davis Simmons paced the halls of University Hospital nervously awaiting news of his wife’s (Jean Wiletta) and child’s status. He couldn’t imagine what could be taking so long. As time passed by, Otis grew more, and more anxious, and began fearing the worst. He and Jean, or “Willy,” as he affectionately called her, arrived at Little Rock’s University Hospital around 8:45 that night. She had been prepped and taken to the delivery room around 9:30. Weary of his pacing, Nannie Belle, Otis’ Mother, who had arrived by train a week earlier from Kansas City to assist the young couple, said, “Otis, why don’t you go outside and smoke your pipe to relax? I’ll come get you when the nurse comes.” Otis replied, “I’m out of tobacco. I’ve smoked the entire pouch since we've been here."

Inside the delivery room, Dr. Eva Dodge had worries of her own. Jean and Otis’ baby had, at some point near the end of the pregnancy, flipped and the buttocks were appearing first. Dr. Dodge worked feverishly to try and turn the baby so that it would be born headfirst. The baby was having none of it, however. Eventually, Dr. Dodge managed to turn the baby so she could grab its feet. At 12:26 A.M. on May 19th, Otis and Jean had a son. They named him Eric Otis Simmons.

There was joy all around the little house on 1110 Izard Street. The parents were aglow about their new son, and Nannie Belle was every bit as proud. Friends, faculty, and students from Philander Smith College, where the couple worked, streamed through the house to see the new baby boy. Jean, who was a Graduate Student Instructor at the College, had received a wager from her students whereby if the child were a boy, she would have to nickname him Butch. Jean playfully took up her students on the name bet. Much to their delight, she and Otis honored their wager by nicknaming the newborn boy, Butch.

Otis, Nannie Belle, and Jean looking over Butch

Although somewhat embellished, these were actual events surrounding my birth.

Chapter 2

In a League, All Their Own

I wasn’t born to just any two parents. Years ago, my parents and I were sitting at the kitchen table when I said, “Both of you have told me you used to recite Shakespeare to one another in bed. I’ve never heard you quote Shakespeare before.” Dad looked at Mom and said, “Why don’t we do our favorite piece?” The next thing I knew, they were going back and forth alternating between verses of Shakespeare with a gleam in their eyes. I said, “Wait a minute guys. It was that look that probably brought me into this world!” They erupted into laughter. Dad nearly fell on the floor howling, and Mom was in tears. When they composed themselves, I followed with, “I have to ask you guys something serious. Something very serious.” They looked at me with concern on their faces and in near unison replied, “Sure son. You can ask us anything.” I inquired, “Am I adopted?” Then there was more howling, table pounding, and laughter between them. They assured me I wasn’t adopted.

Mom and Dad met in 1953 at Philander Smith College where he was the new Choir Director and Voice Instructor. She was a recent Pre-Law graduate and Assistant to the College’s President, Dr. Lafayette Harris.

Dad and Mom during their Philander Smith days

After graduating from Sumner High School, Dad served four years in the Army where he rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant before being Honorably Discharged. He received his Bachelor (1953), Master (1958), and Ph.D. (1965) in Music Education from the University of Kansas. Dad also spoke German and French. From 1948-1949, he attended the Kansas City Conservatory of Music to study voice with Endre Kreachmann, formally the leading baritone of the Paris Opera Company. He was the only African-American to sing in the select male chorus of the Conservatory during a presentation of the “Alto Rhapsody” by Brahms with Blanche Thebom of the Metropolitan Opera as soloist. Dad also sang as a soloist with the Kansas City Symphony band.

When she was in the fourth grade, Mom had to drop out of school for the year due to an illness. When she returned the next year, Mom performed so well, she skipped two grade levels (fourth, and fifth grades). After graduating from high school, my Mother received numerous scholarship offers to attend college. She chose Philander Smith College, a Methodist school in Little Rock, Arkansas upon receipt of a full four-year scholarship from the United Methodist Church. In 1953, after only three years of attendance, Mom graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Pre-Law, with Honors, from Philander Smith. Shortly afterward, she was accepted to attend Boston University’s School of Law and The University of Arkansas’ College of Education Master’s Degree program. She decided to go to the University of Arkansas.

Mom and Dad married May 17, 1954. He was 30; she was 22. Their wedding was held at the President’s House on the campus of Philander Smith College.

The newlyweds

On January 28, 1956, roughly five months before I was born, Mom became one of the first, if not the first, African-American women to receive a Master of Education degree from the University of Arkansas. Following, she received the prestigious Ford Foundation Fellow award to begin her study towards a PH.D. in Education at the University. To better understand the significance of the award, in 2016, only 60 Ford Foundation Fellow awards were bestowed nationally. Mom’s PH.D. research was a part of the “Arkansas Experiment in Teacher Education” which was a new and controversial program combining internship and professional study. Apparently, with me needing so much of her attention as a toddler, Mom ultimately decided to cease pursuit of her Doctorate.

On September 15, 1959, after nearly five years of marriage, my parents divorced. I was three years old at the time. My parents never told me why they divorced. I have my guesses, though. My thinking is, in the 1950’s, women were expected to be subservient to men and know that their place was “in the home.” Mom was the antithesis of such thinking. Dad was a highly driven, articulate, intelligent black man with a higher IQ than most white males he encountered. Mom was every bit of Dad’s match intellectually. Add to the mix; she was a black woman. Without question, both my parents were far ahead of the times in which they lived. Of the two, Dad's ego and tremendous pride were far greater than Mom's. When I add it up, I find it inconceivable the two could have coexisted together, under one roof, for an extended period, especially in that particular era. Put another way; I have concluded, “My parents were like poles, and they ended up repelling one another.”

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