Wanting To Count (a career story)

29 Aug 2022. Carole Simms with Bob Kaplan

My goal in high school was to have more stuff in our high school Annual than anyone else. That goal says a lot about me.

Here's the entry:

By the way, the autographs are from teachers; none from classmates. 

I wanted to be accepted but I never quite fit in. I was always a bit chubby and not so attractive and not very athletic. I was always the last girl to get chosen for the dodgeball team—that sort of stuff. When I was about eleven years old, this little redheaded guy invited me to go to the Sweetheart Banquet at my church for Valentine's Day. I was thrilled. A few days later he told me, my mama says we don't know your family so I can't go to the banquet with you. It's like I was an outcast. I'm sure it didn't help that I came from a broken home, and that my family was very poor.

My parents, who were both born in the 1920s, grew up in the deep South, which was still reeling from the depths of the Depression and the devastation that the South wreaked upon itself in the Civil War. 

My mother's parents divorced when she was two or three, and her father took the older of the three children and went to his family home in southeast Alabama where he could get a job in a textile mill. He left my mother with her mother. My grandmother decided to go to nursing school to be able to support herself and her young daughter. Nursing school at that time required six and a half days a week living in the nursing residence with only Sunday afternoon off. But to be able to do that, she had to put my mother in an orphanage, the Mercy Home. My grandmother rode the city bus over to Mercy Home on Sunday afternoons but she couldn't go in because she had signed my mother over to the orphanage. My mother and grandmother would meet at the fence to visit for a time. Years later when my grandmother and I would ride by the Mercy Home, she would tell me the story of standing at the fence to see her daughter and the story always brought tears to her eyes and mine. That was life in the 1930's during the Depression.

My daddy's stories of the Depression were equally heartbreaking. When he was in high school, he  was the only one in his family of five who had an income. He had a job riding his bicycle to deliver groceries after school. 

He told me his baby sister had died of whooping cough. He and his family drove to his birthplace of Oxford, Alabama to bury her. The baby was wrapped in a blanket in the back seat, and the rest of his family was crammed into the front seat. He recalled that matter-of-factly as he and I were riding down the same highway near Oxford. No one else ever made any mention of the baby sister.

When I was in high school my mother and father separated. It was soon after my youngest brother was born. She and the two younger boys moved to Mississippi. My older brother, Tommy, was already out of the house. He had gotten married at sixteen. For my last two years of high school I was left with my daddy, who had a terrible alcohol problem so he wasn't there much. 

My family's relationships were dysfunctional. Evidence of that is how many of our marriages, my three brothers' and mine, ended in divorce—eleven of fifteen. Two of my mine did; a third one ended when my husband died. My brothers and I all wanted be in a committed relationship, but we didn't seem to know how to make one work. 

After my parents separated, I was basically on my own. Or I would have been on my own but I had a wonderful neighbor, Miss Opal Oliver, a primary school teacher, and a wonderful woman, who kept a watchful eye on me for those couple of years. I was alone but there was always someone there. 

A scary thing happened when I was a senior in high school. I got very sick, on a Sunday afternoon, and I was in my bedroom alone in my house until Wednesday when my aunt came by to check on me. She took me to the emergency room and I was admitted to the hospital. They thought it might be spinal meningitis. My English teacher, Mrs. Grace Waits, one of my favorite teachers, came to see me in the hospital. "How could this be?" she said.

But back in fourth grade a door opened almost magically for me. We got this letter from the Birmingham Board Of Education. They wanted me to change schools—move from my neighborhood school and go to what they called an Enrichment Class, on the other side of town. My daddy was totally opposed to it because it was outside the norm but I decided to do it. 

I had to get on the city bus to downtown Birmingham and change busses. It was a wonderful opportunity because kids from all over the city came to this class. We had a great teacher, Miss Valeria McInnis, from the fifth grade to eighth grade. She taught this enrichment class for thirty years and she was about to retire. She was a wonderful teacher.

The class was in an old, dilapidated school building. Across the hall we had a class of learning-disabled kids and in the basement there was another class of students with cerebral palsy, and we did things with all the students. It was quite an eye-opening experience to see all sorts of people. But somehow I was still sort of the outsider. I was the only kid who rode the bus. Everybody else in the enrichment class was driven to school by their mother. 

But it was still a wonderful opportunity. Every day I walked out of my house and closed the front door behind me and I entered a different world. And in that different world I encountered so many kind and loving people. Maybe that's part of surviving.

I walked out of that house in a bigger way when I left for college. Which I knew very little about; I didn't even know how to apply for admissions or a scholarship; my teachers helped me.

I walked out of that house, where I had basically been alone, and I closed the door behind me. I was determined to make something out of myself. To make myself into a different person.

I just closed the door on all of it but as a result I have no connection to it, no current personal connection. I don't have any very good, close friends from that early period. I'm very sorry about that. But I just separated myself completely. Maybe that's what I had to do to survive.

Starting out, the highest ambition I could imagine was to be a shorthand and typing teacher like Mrs. Gulledge, my high school shorthand teacher. That would be far and above anything I could ever imagine. I did not have a life plan. Doors opened that I never expected.

Somehow I got the idea I could be an accountant, even though I didn't have a picture of what that really involved. But when I took my first accounting course, that's when the lightbulb turned on for me. It was the whole accounting concept of "debits equal credits." That was magic to me, the idea that the good things and the bad things will balance out, the idea that those bad things are happening now but there might be some good things coming along. It's a life view. You can relate it to so many things. I just loved accounting. After the introductory course, I was the only woman taking accounting.

Of all the doors that Enrichment Class no doubt opened for me, one stands out: I met my first husband there. He was a boy in the class ahead of me in the same enrichment program. That's how we met, in fifth grade. He came from a gracious and loving family. We were not constant boyfriend and girlfriend but we were mostly that over the years. He went to Auburn and I followed him there. We got married the day after I graduated.

He was working on a master's program in electrical engineering when I graduated. So I went to MBA school in the meantime. He said, "Don't hold me up when I finish." I buckled down and completed the MBA program in four quarters, a quarter ahead of him. He took a job at Bell Laboratories in Greensboro, North Carolina. That's when Bell Labs was really flourishing. They were hiring electrical engineers from around the country. That year I think there were six other electrical engineers who had just graduated from Auburn and moved to Greensboro the same week. We called it the Auburn Mafia.

The life I lead now started when I moved to Greensboro. By the end of June 1968 I had already secured an interview with a tax accountant, Millie Mashburn. Millie was one of the few female CPAs in North Carolina and was well respected in Greensboro and in the accounting profession throughout the state. On the day I first met Millie, she was so busy that she only had time to interview me in the office building's snack shop where we both had hotdogs. She offered me the job that afternoon, a Friday afternoon. I started work in that CPA firm on Monday. She was a wonderful mentor. If you walked in a room with Millie, you were okay. She opened many, many doors for me.

After six years, my husband and I separated and he moved to Princeton, New Jersey to be with another woman. ­­­­­I must admit that I was devastated by our divorce.

Before long I started dating Tom Fee, who was the treasurer of Jefferson Standard Insurance Company. When we decided to get married, I was told it was a conflict of interest and I would have to leave the accounting firm. As a partner in the firm, Millie argued that it was a far better decision to keep Carole at the firm and let Jefferson Standard go as a client. Needless to say, Millie did not prevail in her argument.

After Tom and I married, I began working with a Greensboro law firm preparing tax returns for their clients. I had also taken a position as an assistant professor of accounting at Guilford College. I worked at the law firm during the day and taught accounting at night. I've been with the same law firm since May of 1975. I joke that the law firm changed names more times than I've changed husbands.

I was about a year and a half into that life and felt it was a pretty good deal. But Tom and I were having dinner with Tom's boss, Roger Soles, and his wife, Majelle. Roger told me, "If you don't get yourself a law degree you're always going to be a second-class citizen at that law firm. You're preparing tax returns but you can't sign them." The next morning I called the dean of the Chapel Hill law school and the dean of the Wake Forest law school—I went to Wake Forest, which I loved. That's truly why I went to law school. People have these long-term plans for their career. They know what they want to be when they grow up. That wasn't me.

It was the mid '80s when I first got seriously involved in civic activities, in Greensboro. I do believe this community is a very accepting place. The community welcomes those who want to be a part of it. I felt that from the very beginning. Greensboro is big enough to have opportunities and small enough to know people. 

I think I am generally a kind person. I don't know whether I came by that naturally or it was a reaction to being chased around by my older brother and two of my cousins; they shoved snakes in my face. When I was three, they jammed my index finger in the hammer of a rifle and to this day it's deformed. They were really tough on me but somehow I didn't feel intimidated.  

From things like that which happened to me directly and from witnessing much worse things that happened around me, I wanted the world to be a kinder place. I think a person has to have hope. You've got to see that there is a way out of a bad situation. I wanted there to be a door out of bad situations like those I experienced.

To me, a just community has to have three things. It has to have quality and accessible health care, it has to have education, and it has to have economic opportunity, and these three things must be available to all people. Those are the things I really try to do my best on. You can be as healthy as you can be and as educated a you can be, but you also need to have access to good jobs. 

That's why I have been involved with the chamber of commerce, which creates good jobs and good income for people. That's why I have volunteered with hospice. You often hear that after a loved one has died, "I don't know what I would have done without hospice." I work with widows and widowers—help them with their taxes and their estate. They often say, "Carole, I don't know how I could have done this without you." That's very moving to me.

Clearly the deepest connection between my civic and charitable work and my childhood is seeing opportunities present themselves to people that those people never expected but certainly deserved—helping to open doors to hope and to opportunity.

Fundamentally, my career is all about the relationships I've developed, the people I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with. A couple of examples: Roger and Majelle Soles. They were dear friends. Majelle took me on my first trip out of the U.S. to London during my first year of law school. Those were great friendships and also meaningful professional relationships, with Roger and Majelle.

Equally so was my relationship with Joe Bryan, Sr. a top executive at Jefferson Standard Insurance Company (where my husband, Tom, worked). I was introduced to him by Charlie and Jim Melvin. Mr. Bryan formed the Joseph Bryan Foundation and left the bulk of his wealth to Greensboro. He had a clear vision of the challenges facing Greensboro and wanted his foundation to be a force in meeting those challenges. He shared his vision with the directors of his foundation and I have been humbled to be associated with the Bryan Foundation.

Stanley Frank, another story of an incredible entrepreneur. He came to Greensboro in 1936 and went to a service station to change into his work clothes. He walked six blocks to a rendering plant and began working in the rendering business, which was mostly collecting the inedible waste of slaughtered animals and processing the waste into usable materials. He eventually owned the plant and turned it into a major rendering business in the Southeast. Stanley was the first client I met on my first day of work at the CPA firm (the one Millie hired me into). 

Stanley formed a family foundation, and he worked with his sons and me to teach us his philosophy about philanthropy. He wanted his sons to have a good life but he dedicated most of his wealth to Greensboro. The Frank Family Foundation today is supporting entrepreneurship, health and education in Greensboro and is working to fulfill Stanley and Dorothy Frank's dreams for this community. I became friends with them and that relationship continues with his surviving son, Barry Frank. That sort of opportunity, to help Stanley Frank and Joe Bryan realize their dreams, was just incredible to me. 

I met a guy at a cocktail party and six years later I got a call from him: "I have a client who is looking for a tax lawyer, and she's going to interview several lawyers. I'd like you to have the opportunity to interview with her." "Who is she?", I asked. "Dr. Maya Angelou," he replied. 

That was the middle of the week. We arranged I would go to her home in Winston-Salem on Monday. I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings over the weekend and had an enchanting visit with Dr. Angelou on Monday. Again, she wanted to form a foundation, and she chose me to help her do that. 

Dr. Angelou's goal was to fund scholarships in historically black colleges and universities across the country. She believed that education opened doors for young people, and I was honored to be a part of making her dream become a reality.

So that's what keeps me motivated, trying to help people achieve whatever good they seek to do. Some people have children with medical issues or other significant issues: how do we create trusts that help the children live the best lives they can live. Just a great opportunity to make a difference. It's beyond the taxes you owe; it's helping people achieve their goals during life and after death. 

My career is truly about the relationships with people. It's just so important to maintain those relationships. It's incredibly important to me.

I see this work as my legacy. Your legacy is different when you have children. When you have children and grandchildren, you see this line carrying on after your death, and that becomes your legacy.

But I don't have children of my own. I have been married four times and in three of those marriages, I have had stepchildren. I'm still close to the adult children from a marriage that ended in divorce and one that ended on my husband's death. I cherish my relationship with each of these children and their own children.

But not having children of my own, I've wanted to leave behind something that makes a difference. I have tried hard to spend enough time in organizations I get involved in and really be committed to them so that I can truly help make a difference. 

Part of me has wanted my list of volunteer activities to be longer than anybody else's, going back to wanting to have the most entries of anybody in my high school annual. There have been a total of twenty-three. Six are current. (Editor's note: those involvements, as well as the many honors, fourteen, Carole has received, are listed at the end.)

But my true motivation is wanting to open doors and help make life better for all people who need hope and opportunity in the Greensboro area.

I am committed to my career. I have no intention to retire unless my mind or my body gives out.

People ask me, how do you do it! I say, easy. I spend 50 percent of my time practicing law, I spend 50 percent of my time doing my volunteer work, and I spend 50 percent of my time with my family. Seriously, the hours I spend working with those organizations reduces the time I spend practicing law and spending time with my family. My law firm has over the years been very supportive, completely supportive, of what I have done and fortunately, my family has also been supportive.

To be accepted—by helping others—has been the biggest driving force in my life.

Editor's note: For her civic involvement and her charitable work, Carole has been honored many times over.


  1. Triad Business Journal, Outstanding Women in Business Special Achievement Award, 2019.
  2. Junior Achievement of Central North Carolina Business Leaders Hall of Fame, 2014.
  3. North Carolina Bar Association, 2009 Citizen Lawyer Award.
  4. Auburn University College of Business 40 of 40, Recognition of 40 graduates for 40-year anniversary of College of Business who exemplify the Auburn spirit, 2008.
  5. “The Best Lawyers in America, 2009-2015” Trusts and Estate, Woodward/White, Inc.
  6. The Greensboro Partnership, 2008 Thomas Z. Osborne Award for Community Service.
  7. YMCA of Greensboro, 2004 Volunteer of the Year Award.
  8. National Conference for Community and Justice, Piedmont Triad Region, 2003 Brotherhood/Sisterhood Citation.
  9. Guilford College 2002 Distinguished Service Award.
  10. The Triad Business Journal 2002 Women in Business Award; 2005-2015 Triad’s Most Influential People.
  11. Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, 2000 Athena Award.
  12. North Carolina Bar Association and Greensboro Bar Association, 1999 Centennial Award for Outstanding and Exemplary Community Service.
  13. Hospice at Greensboro, Inc., 1996 Spirit of Hospice Award.
  14. Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, 1995 Thornton Brooks Volunteer of the Year Award.


Her current volunteer activities are:

  1. The Joseph M. Bryan Foundation of Greater Greensboro, 1997 - present; Director and Secretary-Treasurer.
  2. The Stanley and Dorothy Frank Family Foundation, 1997 - present; Director and Secretary.
  3. Cone Health, Board of Trustees, 2014 – present.
  4. Well-Spring Services, Inc., Board of Directors, 2014 – present.
  5. Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation, Board of Directors, 2011 – present.
  6. Gateway Research Park, Board of Directors, elected in 2022


These are her past involvements:

  1. Union Square Campus, Inc., Board of Directors, 2013 – 2021, Chairperson, 2020-2021.
  2. Greensboro Police Foundation, Board of Directors, 2012 – 2021, Vice-Chairperson, 2021.
  3. UNC-G Excellence Foundation Board of Directors, 2017 – 2021
  4. Elon University School of Law Board of Advisors, 2010 – 2021
  5. The First Tee of the Triad, Board of Directors, 2009 - 2021.
  6. The Greensboro Partnership, Board of Directors, 2005 - 2014; Chair, 2011-2012
  7. Guilford College, Board of Trustees, 2005 - 2015; Chair, Finance Committee, 2008 - 2015; Chair, Presidential Search Committee, 2013-2014
  8. Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation Investment Committee, 2003 - 2015.
  9. International Civil Rights Center and Museum, Director and Treasurer, 2006¬-2010; Management Committee, 2009-2010.
  10. Guilford County Taskforce to End Chronic Homelessness in 10 Years, Chair, 2006-2008.
  11. North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission, 2001-2008; Member and Chair, Teen Smoking Prevention Task Force.
  12. The Cemala Foundation, 2001- 2008, Director.
  13. Greater Greensboro Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Operating Group, 1996-2006; Chair, 2003-2006.
  14. YMCA Metropolitan Board of Directors and Executive Committee, 1996-2006; Chair, 2002-2005.
  15. Well-Spring Retirement Community, Inc., Board of Directors, 1994-2006; Chair, Finance Committee, 2001-2003; Chair of the Board, 2004-2006.
  16. North Carolina A&T State University, Trustee, 1998-2007; Secretary, 2003-2005; Chair, Development and External Affairs Committee; Vice Chair of the Board, 2005-2007.
  17. Hospice at Greensboro, Inc. Board of Directors, 1988-2002; President, 1992¬-1994; Treasurer, 1994-1996; Development Committee and Strategic Planning Committee Chairperson, 1997-2003; Chair, 25th Anniversary Endowment Campaign, 2005-2006.
  18. The Moses H. Cone Health System Board of Trustees, 1988-2002; Chairperson of the Board, 1999-2001; prior committees: Chair, Finance Committee, Member, Executive, Investment, Strategic Planning, Joint Conference and Planning.
  19. HealthServe Ministry, Inc., Board of Directors, 1997-2002.
  20. United Way of Greater Greensboro Board of Directors and Executive Committee, 1986-1996; Campaign Chairperson, 1993; Vice Chairperson of the Board, 1994; hairperson of the Board, 1995.
  21. Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, Inc., Member, Finance Committee; Director, 1987-1993; Treasurer, 1989-1991.
  22. United Arts Council of Greensboro, Chairperson of the 1991 United Arts Fund.
  23. Greensboro Sports Council, Member, 1994-present; Director, 1996-1999, 2000-¬2005; President, 2003-2004; Chair, 2005