Her kind of comfort food
Thursday, June 19, 2008 @ 05:06 AM Author: admin
Her kind of comfort food BY LEILONI DE GRUY, Staff Writer 19.JUN.08 By opening the restaurant that was his dream, the widow of slain officer Randal Simmons finds another way to carry on his legacy. The grand opening of Leimert Park’s newest restaurant, New Orleans Vieux Carré Creole Cuisine, was originally scheduled for early February. But those plans took a tragic turn when its co-owner, Los Angeles Police Department SWAT officer Randal “Randy” Simmons, was killed in the line of duty. Now, more than four months later, the restaurant is preparing for its Saturday debut as Simmons’ wife, Lisa, revisits that fateful day, sharing how she picked up the pieces, raises two children and runs a business — all while trying to fulfill her husband’s legacy. “One of the very first memories that I have of you is waking up in the middle of the night when I was about six or seven and seeing you kneeling at the foot of my bed praying over me. My very last memory of you was leading our family in prayer on the night that you passed away,” says Simmons, as she thinks back on their daughter Gabrielle’s words. On that fateful night, Simmons and her daughter suffered from a terrible cold. A spiritual man, Randy gathered the family for prayer. Around 10 o’clock, Simmons says she headed to bed. “Then I woke up at 12 o’clock and I just jumped up, it was weird, I jumped up and I was patting the bed and I was feeling for him, thinking, ‘Where is he?’” So often, she said, he would get up in the middle of the night to go downstairs and pray. It had not crossed her mind that he left to go on assignment, because she, a light sleeper, would wake him up when the call came in and in the event he received the call before her, he would wake her before he left and would leave by kissing her good-bye. That night was different, she hadn’t heard the call nor did she feel his sign of affection. “There was no doubt in my mind that he was at home somewhere in the house but when the phone rang I thought it was him calling to say that he had to leave quickly for a call up.” It wasn’t Randy, it was the Los Angeles Police Department. They informed her that he had been shot and that squad cars would be there shortly to pick her up. Still she did not know the extent of his injuries, Randy had been shot before in the leg and had his teeth knocked out after running into a fence while in pursuit of a criminal. “I ran downstairs, I ran into every room in my house to see if someone was playing a joke and then I realized it was serious. No sooner than I went to change my clothes, they were knocking on my door … they told me we were going to fly there by helicopter over to Northridge Hospital and I felt that if it wasn’t that serious, I could have driven. … Still, I thought he might have been in surgery but then they told me that I should contact my pastor.” When Lisa arrived at the hospital, several people, officers and family, were waiting for her. Entering the elevator, no one made eye contact nor did they make a sound, she recalled. Instead of heading up, where patient care is, they headed down to the basement, where the morgue is stationed. It was this moment, that she finally knew he was gone. “I just lost it … I felt like my soul had been ripped out,” she said. Following his death, Simmons reflected on signs leading up to the event. Eerily, she now believes that Randy subconsciously knew his time was coming to an end and that God was preparing her to deal with it. Randy, according to Simmons, would always say that if he got shot in the head and passed as a result, he would be content because his relationship with God was so strong. “Ironically, that’s how he died, he was shot in the face … the bullet went through and severed his spine.” On Feb. 7, Randy and his partner, James Veenstra, received a call from the station informing them that a man who they believed to be mentally ill shot three of his family members. Randy and his partner rushed in to the San Fernando Valley home, where they were both met with gunfire. Veenstra survived, though he underwent several cosmetic surgeries. Randy did not. In over 27 years, no SWAT officer had been killed in the line of duty, until that day. “It could have happened to anybody, but it had to be him … I just remember Gabrielle saying ‘No, no, not my dad.’” The day before Randy’s death, Simmons was in the bathroom brushing her teeth when an infomercial came on. One line kept playing in her mind, “time is a silent thief.” She was so rattled by it that she voiced her concerns to her mother and Randy. “It was true, it was like he had been taken like a thief in the night,” she says of not hearing him leave their home that night. Then, days later, Simmons walked into her room and noticed their son, Matthew, 16, sitting down with a letter and tears streaming from his face. The letter had been written by Randy prior to his death and in it were all the guidelines he would need to continue his football career, from plays to footwork. As much as Simmons wanted to break down, she knew she had to be strong for their children; Randy’s main concern had always been their welfare. So, she decided to pick up the pieces and move on with the support of the LAPD, people he has helped through outreach, her church, and children, otherwise, “I’d be up on the third floor [of a mental hospital] somewhere, talking to myself.” Just weeks after the funeral, Simmons opened the doors to Vieux Carré. She says, “It’s what he would have wanted; he would have wanted me to keep going.” Some of her first customers and still frequent customers are police officers and family friends. On June 22, however, she plans to give the restaurant its proper introduction with a grand opening. Simmons says to expect authentic Creole dishes and live entertainment. The street where the restaurant is located, Degnan Boulevard, will be blocked off for the event from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. With roots in New Orleans, Simmons is one of several co-owners of the restaurant, the others include her sisters Sharon Sumlin and Melinda Harleaux and their husbands, Wilfred Sumlin and Dwayne Harleaux, the restaurant’s head chef and a New Orleans native. Her mother Veronica Hunter manages the restaurant while she, her sisters and Sumlin maintain other careers. Randy, who was also a co-owner, may not be present for the grand opening, but Simmons plans to continue his legacy. Part of the proceeds will go to the Randal D. Simmons Outreach Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on quality of life, world outreach, education, and health and wellness. “My husband was a very passionate man. … He would see an old lady with no shoes on and say ‘Lisa, pull up to that Payless real quick’ and I wouldn’t know what for, then he would run in and get some shoes and say I want to give that lady some shoes. That was just his heart.” – Photo by Gary McCarthy
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