Oral History Spotlight

It Wasn't All Work

For Walter Simmons, lessons from Tech paid lifelong dividends

By Maria Lemeiras


Simmons Oliver "Walton" Simmons didn't graduate from Georgia Tech. But during his three-year college career at the Institute, Simmons became versed in the two things that are essential to success:

"If you're going to go to Tech--and you're going to do it seriously--you're going to have to have patience, and you're going to have to have persistence," said Simmons, Cls '40, of Jonesboro, Ga.

The 79-year-old Simmons' pursuit of his degree was interrupted by World War II, and afterward by a growing family. But Simmons says he called upon the lessons he learned at Tech throughout his military service and two civilian careers.

He was exposed to the Tech tradition early. His father, Shelton Simmons, graduated from Tech in textile engineering in 1910, and his uncle, John Simmons, graduated in textile engineering in 1915. Simmons remembers attending football games at Tech during his youth, particularly when Knute Rockne and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame came to challenge the Yellow Jackets.

After graduating from Russell High School in East Point, Ga., in 1936, Simmons, who displayed an interest and ability in chemistry, began his career at Tech. He studied under such legends as math Professor D.M. Smith and Dean William Skiles.

Even the hardest lessons to learn proved to be productive.

The War Calls

After failing physics a second time, Simmons had a conference with Dean Skiles, and was required to stay out a semester in 1939. Simmons worked with his father at the family business, Southern Sizing Co., a firm that supplied chemicals to the textile industry. He decided to serve his country and pursue his childhood dream of flying. He applied for flight training with the Army Air Corps and was accepted into the aviation cadet program. In the flight training program at High Point, N.C., Simmons ironically was called upon to teach elementary physics to other cadets because of his Tech background and a shortage of professors.

After the war, Simmons returned to work with his father. Although he regrets not completing his Tech degree, Simmons said supporting a family--including wife, Josephine, and sons John, Bob and Bill--came first.

Simmons applied principles he had learned at Tech to manage Southern Sizing, and later sold the company and entered the banking field with Trust Company Bank.

The first day he went to work at the bank, he carried his slide rule with him, Simmons said with a laugh. He credits his solid background in math as helping him achieve success in his banking career.

Simmons said he has been impressed over the years by the number of influential people he worked with who had ties to Tech--in both the textile and banking industries--and by how his personal Tech experience made a profound difference in his life.

"The knowledge I received and the contacts I made at Tech were good for me because of the widespread notion of Tech as a respected learning institution," Simmons said. "And when you run up against a problem, that's the first thing you think about: what you learned there."

Simmons said he has been gratified to see Tech's influence spread through his own family. Two of Simmons' sons have continued the legacy: John, Cls '65, and Bob, AE '68. Simmons' younger brother, Wallis, is a member of the class of 1945. Grandsons John, Todd and Andrew are also Tech alumni who have gone on from engineering careers to such divergent fields as finance, physical therapy and the handmade furniture business. In all, 14 members of Simmons' immediate and extended family have attended Tech.

Although lessons learned have been invaluable, Simmons said, Georgia Tech was not all hard work. "We had fun," he said, "and that has meant a lot." GT

Maria Lameiras is a freelance writer in Atlanta.

As a regular feature, Tech Topics spotlights alumni who have shared their Georgia Tech experience with the Georgia Tech Alumni Association's Oral History Project. For information about the program, contact Marilyn Somers, director, Alumni/Faculty House, Atlanta, GA 30332-0175, or telephone 1-800-GTALUMS or (404) 894-9271.