Who Was Your First Hero, Lowery Stokes Sims?

My father was tallish—6 feet or so– taciturn—said little but communicated much. Ever sartorially elegant he was invariably dressed in one of his Brooks Brothers suits—two of which he purchased each year—and shoes he obsessively cared for—most often polishing them himself.

Originally a school teacher who grew up on a southern farm in Tennessee, he morphed into a northern suburban Dad in New York, commuting by subway everyday from Queens to jobs in Manhattan–at any number of architectural firms where he navigated the politics—having others take credit for his work—and the economics—dealing with finding another job in another firm as soon as the current one laid him off in economically scarce times. The amazing thing is that that he managed this deftly, never skipping a beat so that we never experienced scarcity or want. He eventually found a consistent job at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey where his greatest pleasure was the work he did on the Authority’s flagship structure: the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. He would die two years before 9/11.

For me he was protector, disciplinarian—he could stop me in my tracks with a single look—and patient and willing chauffeur. He would also be my date at a museum opening when my boyfriend punked out—I took out my first membership at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I was in high school—and he patiently observed all my creative endeavors including unsuccessful stints as a violinist and a guitarist. As I made my way in the institutional and corporate world I came to know full well what he had weathered and how he survived the lurking exclusions and outright racism that he faced—and refused to be deterred by—to go on to have what by any measure was an amazing career. He was a hands-on mentor guiding me in strategies to swerve away from the usual triggers of race and gender to analyze the situation in a larger societal context. It was that equanimity and toughness that inspired me and made my father my first hero.


Lowery Stokes Sims is a Curator at the Museum of Arts and Design. Sims was on the education and curatorial staff of The Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1972-1999 where she curated over 30 exhibitions. Sims then served as executive director, president and adjunct curator for the permanent collection at The Studio Museum in Harlem from 2000-2007.

Photo of Lowery and her father, circa 1975

3 Responses to “Who Was Your First Hero, Lowery Stokes Sims?”

Barbara Earl Thomas says:

  1. September 26, 2013 at 5:36 pm  (Edit)

    Wonderful to see Lowery here in “First Hero.” I can attest that her dad did a wonderful job of guiding and mentoring her. While I didn’t know him personally I can say I believe I’ve encounter his good works in his daughter. It’s amazing what we can learn from our parent’s lives and how their lessons continue to teach us long after their time with us is past. It’s how we keep them living with us in the present. When I miss my father I simply speak in his voice and say something I may have heard him say or something I think he might have said. Makes me smile and brings him into my present.


  2. Cee Scott Brown says:

    September 26, 2013 at 9:08 pm  (Edit)

    I LOVE this.


  3. Linda Earle says:

    September 27, 2013 at 4:16 pm  (Edit)

    Mr.Sims was all that — dashing, funny graceful and so very proud of Lowery.