Music 36
Official Obituary of

Katie Wilkie Simmons

March 4, 1952 ~ March 23, 2024 (age 72) 72 Years Old

Katie Simmons Obituary

Katherine Elizabeth Wilkie Simmons, a Forest City native and band director who spent three decades demanding the best of her band students, chorus students, and flag corps members—as well as of her son, daughter, and grandson—conducted her final concert on Saturday morning, March 23, 2024 at the age of 72.

Ever the fighter, Katie lived life on her own terms. She often said she wanted to “go home” like her father—in her sleep. Though she waged war with Stage Three, and later Stage Four, Breast Cancer for the last 4.5 years of her life and though she faced death on three separate occasions, winning each of these duals in turn, she still “went home” on her own terms like her father—in her sleep while at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA.

Katie, born the second and surprise child of Frederick Austin Wilkie, Sr. and Ocie Bryson Wilkie, bounded into this world on March 4, 1952. Though her battle with cancer was largely quiet, she lived her life aloud. Her mother, Ocie, stated on numerous occasions even when Katie was frustrated because she had not achieved exactly what she wanted, she was so beautiful and driven that Ocie could only help her daughter achieve any goal she had before her.

Katie’s drive not only compelled her mother’s assistance in youth but also propelled her forward in her formative years at East Rutherford High School in Forest City, NC. At ERHS, Band Director W.W. Jacobus gave Katie’s drive direction and furthered her perfectionist bent. During high school, she served as Drum Major of the Cavalier Band and developed the commanding voice that took her through life. Under her leadership, the band placed first in the Festival of States Marching Bank Competition in St. Petersburg, FL and third in the world at the World Music Festival in Kerkrade, the Netherlands.

Some of Katie’s fondest memories spring from her time under W.W. Jacobus’ baton, his penchant for perfection spurring her to become a band director herself. After earning her degree in Music from Western Carolina University, the same drive that propelled Katie forward in her youth led her to become one of only three women band directors in the state of South Carolina upon starting her professional life at Barnwell High School in 1974. In 1978, Katie and her family moved to Lancaster, SC, where she taught for the remainder of her career in Lancaster County Public Schools.

During her career, Katie continued to live her life aloud as a hard-driving, perfection-demanding, and student-edifying band director, chorus director, and flag corps instructor. Her clarion voice coached—and at times admonished—students, when instructing them how to improve their posture to expand their lung capacity; how to properly develop an embouchure for instruments ranging from flute and clarinet to french horn and trombone; as well as how to “roll” their feet in the precise manner that kept wind players from injuring their embouchures while executing marching band shows on football fields covered in divots. Yet, as much as she relished music, one aspect of teaching fulfilled her most: showing her students that no matter how humble their resources and upbringing, they could still become the best/produce the highest caliber of work possible. She taught this lesson not by word alone, but also with action. She got in the trenches with her students while simultaneously demanding hours of the work, concentration, and effort that ultimately led to perfection—no matter whether on the field, on the stage, or in life. As many students have relayed over the years, her voice and work ethic still ring in the back of their minds years after leaving her classroom.

After her retirement, Katie still lived life aloud and on her own terms. Rather than slowing her pace, she applied the same drive to caregiving for her mother; researching family history to the American Revolution and Scotland; working out, deadlifting, and running Rutherford County’s Rails to Trails greenways; and tirelessly supporting her children as they earned advanced degrees. Though she was often found at Barley’s, a local watering hole, with an IPA in hand, she was most fulfilled when “playing in the dirt” on her family’s home place and spending time with family, whether by sharing a glass of Côtes-du-Rhône with her daughter, planting flowers with her son, learning Chinese cooking techniques from her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law’s mother, or teaching her grandson to play piano, only to cheer him on thirty minutes later at a hockey game.

Through all stages of her life, Katie was a tireless educator, supporter of students, ever-devoted mother and grandmother, and unfailing friend and fighter for many. Most of all, she was a light to all who inhabited her life, constantly reminding us to never give up.

Her survivors include: her daughter, Elizabeth Gray Simmons, of Forest City, NC; her son, James Austin Simmons, and his wife, Yichen Liu, of Westwood, MA; her husband, Tommy Gray Simmons, of Lancaster, SC; her grandson, Austin Max Liu Simmons, of Westwood, MA; her brother, Frederick Austin Wilkie, Jr. of Parkland, FL; and her nephew, Carson Aden Wilkie, and his wife, Marianna Ortigosa Wilkie, of Parkland, FL. 

A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held at 2 o'clock on Saturday, April 6, 2024 at the First Baptist Church of Forest City with visitation to follow in the Family Fellowship Hall. There will be a viewing from 5 until 7 o'clock on Friday, April 5, 2024 at The Padgett and King Mortuary. Interment will be private at the Cool Springs Cemetery.

The Padgett & King Mortuary and Crematory is in charge of arrangements and an online guest registry is available at


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